IS takes largest Iraqi Christian town
IS took over the largest Christian town in Iraq, Qaraqosh, along with other Christian areas in the north Wednesday night and into Thursday after peshmerga, the military arm of the of the Kurd’s in Iraq’s north, withdrew from the region, reported the Jordanian news agency Assabeel on Thursday. The invasion caused thousands of Iraqi Christians to flee to Iraqi Kurdistan.
“The towns of Qaraqosh, Tal Kayf, Bartella, [and] Karamlesh were emptied of their populations and are now under IS control,” Joseph Thomas, a bishop of Kirkuk and Suliemaniya, told AFP.
Thousands of Christians flee northern Iraq to Kurdistan. Photo courtesy of calam1.
“Tens of thousands are forced to flee now.”
The pershmerga had protected Qaraqosh and the surrounding towns against IS in early July, but withdrew Wednesday under circumstances that remain unclear.
Qaraqosh is an entirely Christian town located 50 kilometers southeast of Mosul on the way to Irbil. Thousands of Christians who fled from Mosul during IS’s takeover in June had previously sought refuge in Qaraqosh.
Rebels report taking strategic checkpoints in Hama
Rebels captured two strategic checkpoints near the town of Mharda in Hama province late Wednesday night, reported pro-opposition news agency Aksalser.
“The importance of the checkpoints is their location along the main supply road between the regime forces in Mharda and east Hama city,” Muhammad Abu Zeid, an activist based in Hama, told Syria Direct Thursday.
By capturing the checkpoints along the road from Hama to Mharda, the site of a regime military airport, the rebels hope to weaken the government’s hold of both the town and Hama itself.
Meanwhile, pro-regime news outlet Damascus News Network appeared to confirm the rebels’ capture of the checkpoints early Thursday morning.
“The National Defense Forces now aim to gain control of the two [checkpoints]” along the road from Hama to Mharda, the DNN reported.
“The rebels seek to reach the military airport next to Hama city and separate it from the city,” the opposition activist Abu Zeid said. “In addition, they seek to control the town of Mharda, which is the center for the regime’s military operations in the area.”
The regime exercises nearly complete control over Hama city.
Lebanese army rescues seven soldiers from Arsal
Lebanese army forces stormed several neighborhoods in the militant-held town of Arsal early Thursday morning, freeing seven captive soldiers, an unnamed Lebanese military source told Jordan’s official Petra News Agency.
It was not immediately clear whether Lebanese forces captured ground in Arsal, or withdrew after the rescue operation.
A ceasefire was initially reached on Tuesday between the Lebanese army and Syrian militants (consisting mostly of the Islamic State and Jabhat a-Nusra) present in the village, with the Council of Muslim Scholars acting as mediators.
The majority of a-Nusra fighters then left the village that night, according to unnamed Lebanese security forces quoted in The Daily Star, while IS stayed to fight. Several Lebanese publications, including a-Nahar and a-Nashra, reported that IS elements opened fire on the retreating a-Nusra fighters.
Another deal was reached Wednesday stipulating that remaining militants would leave Arsal for Syria by Thursday night, according to The Daily Star.
As of publishing, the Lebanese army was evaluating whether those militants had in fact withdrawn from Arsal.
IS reportedly captures Brigade 93 in A-Raqqa
The Islamic State (IS) allegedly captured the base of Brigade 93 in A-Raqqa from the regime Thursday after launching a major offensive on the base Wednesday night, according to an IS-linked social media account Thursday.
“We announce to all Muslims the complete liberation of Brigade 93, praise be to God,” the account said.
Several pro-opposition news outlets appeared to corroborate the claim Thursday, including the Sham News Network and Raqqa Media Center. State media had not covered the attack as of Thursday.
The takeover began Wednesday night when three IS suicide bombers attacked the entrance of the base, reported pro-opposition new agency Aksalser. At least 40 regime fighters were killed in the explosion and in the clashes with IS that followed, according to the British monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Brigade 93, located 60 kilometers north of A-Raqqa city, is one of the last regime-controlled posts in the eponymous province. IS has used A-Raqqa as its headquarters since it took over the city in late 2013, and now controls nearly the entire province.
The attack on Brigade 93 follows another major IS offensive against the regime military base Division 17 just outside the provincial capital, which IS seized in late July. Many regime soldiers who left Division 17 during the attack had fled to Brigade 93.
For more from Syria Direct, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.