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Syria Direct: News Update 8-13-2014

IS advances in northern Aleppo The Islamic State (IS) seized […]

13 August 2014

IS advances in northern Aleppo

The Islamic State (IS) seized control of a series of villages, including the strategic town Akhterin in northern Aleppo province after clashes with rebels Wednesday, the pro-opposition news agency Aleppo Media Center reported.

Immediately after taking control of the area, IS began arresting those associated with the Free Syrian Army, reported the pro-opposition group Shahba Press Agency.

By taking Akhterin and the surrounding villages, IS has opened up a path to the nearby northern towns of Marea and Azaz. Marea is a major stronghold for the Islamic Front, a coalition of Islamist groups fighting the regime and IS. Azaz is located on the Turkish border where IS has repeatedly attempted to establish a supply route.

Jabhat a-Nusra and other groups affiliated with the FSA had previously controlled the area, but withdrew from the region in late July, according to the monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Meanwhile, SANA, the official state news agency, quoted a “military source” as saying that the regime “targeted terrorist groups…in Akhterin.”  The claim could not be independently verified.

IS has previously cooperated with a-Nusra and other opposition groups in Aleppo, but was pushed out of the province in January when it became clear that the groups have separate goals.

The center of IS power in Aleppo is the city of al-Bab.

Akhtirin IS captures a series of strategic villages in northern Aleppo. Photo courtesy of Akhtarin City.

Rebels disrupt Hama supply route

Rebels affiliated with the FSA allegedly captured the southern part of the strategic city Mork in northern Hama province on Wednesday, reported the Operations Room of Mork, a local rebel-affiliated news outlet.

Mork is located along a major supply route for the regime between the eponymous provincial capital and Wadi Deif, the center of the regime’s military operations in region.

“A battle took place in Mork,” said a correspondent for Smart News Agency, a pro-opposition news agency, late Tuesday, “ending in 10 deaths for the regime, and an unknown number of casualties for the FSA.”

The news comes in the wake of the rebels’ recent capture of checkpoints on another supply route between Hama city and Mherda, a regime military stronghold.

The disruption of the two supply routes close to Hama demonstrates increased rebel activity in the area and suggests a coordinated strategy against the regime.

Meanwhile, rebels in Hama also allegedly captured a regime pilot and killed the leader of the shabiha (regime-affiliated militia) in Mherda on Monday, according to pro-opposition Siraj Press.

Al-Hasakah district holds out as regime, PYD bombard

Regime forces and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) continued their bombardment of a holdout district in the northeastern city of al-Hasakah, marking the fourth consecutive day of fighting in the neighborhood. 

The PYD and regime forces engaged in fierce clashes with Ghweiran residents Tuesday night in a failed attempt to storm the neighborhood. The fighters are now independent, but many were with the FSA and the district is supportive of the Free Syrian Army.

“Random shelling, sporadic clashes, and a state of panic have forced more than 45 percent of residents to flee,” Amir al-Hakasawi, a civilian in Ghweiran, told Syria Direct Wednesday.

The Islamic State (IS) is increasingly gaining ground around the provincial capital of al-Hasakah, most notably after IS captured the al-Milbiya regiment, located 10 km south of the city, on July 27th.

Demonstrators took to the streets Tuesday in Ghweiran to demand IS intervention to “free the city of infidels and militias,” according to local activist Ismael Rafit, who was quoted in the pro-PYD outlet ARA News. Rafit’s remarks could not be verified. 

Regime intensifies bombing of al-Waer

The Syrian regime struck al-Waer, the last rebel-held district of Homs, on Tuesday with dozens of mortars and tank shells, killing five people, according to pro-opposition Sham News Network.

Regime forces and “armed militias” fought earlier in the week after rebels made a failed attempt to break through the government’s security cordon imposed on the district.

Charitable organizations announced early in the week that they have stopped operations in al-Waer because of obstacles imposed by the regime’s blockade of the area. Previously, regime-affiliated aid convoys sent into al-Waer ended up selling, not distributing, aid to residents, according to unnamed local activists quoted by the pro-opposition Syrian outlet al-Ghad.

The regime has besieged the neighborhood of al-Waer for eight consecutive months, leading to deteriorating living conditions as residents scramble to secure food and medicine. The district contains a large number of displaced Syrians, especially from neighboring areas in Homs, swelling the population to an estimated 400,000.

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