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Syria Direct: News Update 8-20-2014

Rebels advance towards Hama airport Opposition forces in Hama continued […]

20 August 2014

Rebels advance towards Hama airport

Opposition forces in Hama continued to push closer to regime-controlled Hama military airport by capturing the nearby town of Um Khareeza on Wednesday, according to pro-regime news agency Syria-News.com.

Um Khareeza’s capture follows a series of skirmishes on Tuesday around the town, located east of Hama city, between the regime and rebels, reported the monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Meanwhile, the rebels, an alliance of Islamist groups led by Jabhat a-Nusra, Ahrar a-Sham and Harakat Hazm, also captured territory around the town of Qahamne, north of Hama city on the airport road, reported pro-opposition Aksalser. 

A Syrian military source appeared to confirm the news to SANA, the official Syrian news agency.

“Armed men infiltrated residents’ homes in the town (Qahamna) after midnight, abusing some and killing three members of the same family,” SANA reported.

The capture of the town and the checkpoints is part of a larger rebel effort over the past two weeks to seize the Hama military airport.

IS in new campaign for regime base

The Islamic State (IS) launched a fresh offensive on Tuesday night to take A-Tabqa airport, the last remaining regime military base in the north-central A-Raqqa province.

The attack started with an IS soldier slamming a bomb-laden car into the airport wall, according to pro-regime channel Al-Hadath news. This report was seemingly corroborated by a picture circulated on IS-affiliated Twitter accounts purporting to show the suicide bomber with the caption “the martyr Abu Obeida al-Misri rode on the back of his steed and headed towards his goal and reached it.”

Regime and IS exchange fire near A-Tabqa airport. Photo courtesy of @catalonia80. 

IS tanks proceeded to target the airport with artillery volleys, while regime forces responded in kind.

As of publishing, it was unclear how the battle was progressing. An unverified picture circulated on social media late Tuesday night purported to show explosions and fires within the airport compound.

Beyond the symbolic victory of controlling A-Raqqa province entirely, the fall of A-Tabqa airport could prompt the IS to move west into Hama province through the town of of A-Salamiya, located in the outskirts of Hama, the province adjacent to A-Raqqa’s southwest border.

The airport could also furnish the IS with powerful new equipment. It holds at least two warplane squadrons, six helicopters, a number of 130mm field guns, mortars, four tanks, and large stores of ammunition, Ahmed Abu Bakr, a media activist in A-Raqqa, told Syria Direct earlier this week.

More Syrian weapons destroyed

The American vessel Cape Ray has destroyed “its entire consignment of…Category 1 chemicals from the Syrian Arab Republic, ”Ahmet Uzumcu, Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said Tuesday.

The American team destroyed 581 metric tons of DF, used in the production of sarin gas, and 19.8 metric tons of mustard gas, both Category 1 chemicals, meaning those “known or presumed to have carcinogenic potential for humans,” according to the OPCW.

Uzumcu described the destroyed substances as “the most dangerous chemicals in Syria’s arsenal.”

Unspecified amounts of Syria’s chemical weapons are still awaiting destruction in a process overseen by the international organization.

Meanwhiles, accusations have surfaced that the regime continues to use chemical weapons in attacks occurring as late as April 2014 in Hama province and the suburbs of Damascus.

America and Russia agreed on September 14, 2013 to a framework that stipulated the destruction of Syria’s chemical arsenal by mid-2014.

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