Syria, July 18: Another Day in the “Permanent Conflict”
LATEST: Video: Insurgents Take Al-Gebelya Checkpoint Near Nawa
We begin Thursday with an analysis, “Assad is Not ‘Winning’“:
Rather than having clearly-defined battle lines between two coherent military forces, we watch a curious combination of the “fluid” and the “static”. While clashes and skirmishes move through the country on a daily basis, the overall situation has not really altered.
That analysis was highlighted yesterday by a series of developing, often confusing, events throughout the country.
The regime maintained its bombardment of the Damascus suburbs, but its takeover of Homs — proclaimed for weeks — appears to have receded, if not disappeared.
The insurgency, having laid siege to regime positions in Aleppo, does not have appear to have moved towards the offensive that some had promised.
Instead, the mini-advances were in scattered locations. The opposition took Nawa in Daraa Province and claimed that it took territory in Hasakeh Province in the east. The insurgency also is carrying out a sustained assault on the “Brick Factory”, a key regime military position in Idlib Province.
At the same time, the insurgents suffered a set-back — and not at the hands of the regime. Militias of the Kurdish movement PYD took control of Ras al-Ain, a town near the Turkish border.
VIDEO — Civilians leave Nawa after insurgents claim the town on Wednesday:
This morning, we opened with a video of civilians leaving Nawa, Daraa Province en masse on Wednesday after clashes between regime forces and insurgents resulted in insurgents overrunning a checkpoint and taking control over the small town.
Footage posted on Thursday adds another layer to Wednesday’s story, showing insurgents after they have taken control of the Al Gebelya checkpoint near Nawa. The video shows the Martyr Raed Al Masry Company walking around the area, showing the bodies of dead regime fighters, some of whom appear to have been shot in the head — perhaps executed.
Warning — Graphic images of dead fighters
Screenshot from Wikimapia showing the location of the checkpoint in relation to Nawa:
This video, posted by activists in Daraa Province on Thursday gives some perspective to comments by Leila Zerrougui, the UN’s special representative for children and armed conflict, who warned that Syria faced a generation of illiterate children.
The footage is taken in Ma’arabat, a small town in Daraa. A young boy — who looks no older than eight years old — stands guard in front of a mosque whose minaret has been destroyed. When asked who shelled the town, he says “Bashar”. He says the Jaish Al-Hur — the FSA — is guarding the town, and holds up a toy gun. His young friend, or brother, who appears to be about five years old, says that “Bashar Al Assad” is responsible for the shelling.
This video, also from Thursday, explains more about the shelling of the minaret:
Following their capture of the town of Ras al-Ain, the Kurdish militia YPG — affiliated to the Kurdish political movement PYD — has taken more positions in northern Syria:
— Rodi Khalil (@Rodi_Khalil) July 18, 2013
Video footage posted on Thursday by the Tawhid Brigade in Idlib shows insurgents firing on a T-72 tank using a Kornet Russian Anti-Tank Guided Missile. (Thanks to @johnyrocket69 for link and information.)
It is not clear where the insurgents obtained the missiles, though the Syrian Army has Kornet missiles so they could be looted weapons.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday that Washington had “a lot of different options are under consideration” regarding helping the Syrian opposition in their battle against President Bashar al-Assad.
Speaking during a visit to a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan, Kerry addressed questions from refugees as to why the US had not established a no-fly zone over part of Syrian airspace. His response? “It’s not as easy as it sounds.”
“I wish it was very simple. As you know, we’ve been fighting two wars for 12 years. We are trying to help in various ways, including helping Syrian opposition fighters have weapons. We are doing new things. There is consideration of buffer zones and other things but it is not as simple as it sounds,” Kerry was quoted as saying.
Kerry later told reporters that he empathized with Syrian refugees’ frustration — because he felt the same way.
“I think they are frustrated and angry at the world for not stepping up,” he said. “If I was in their shoes I would be looking for help wherever I could find it. I share their passion and frustration for the plight that they face on a day-to-day basis.”
Kerry’s comments come on the same day as a scathing op-ed by David Ignatius, a columnist with close ties to the pro-opposition activist group the Syrian Support Group.
Hacking through Ignatius’s flowery language — he compares the position of the Obama Administration on supporting the Syrian insurgency on what he says is the concept of the “jilt” in 19th century literature (a literary device he appears to have invented) — his column sharply criticizes Washington’s lack of intervention in Syria, and quotes the leader of the Free Syrian Army, Gen. Salim Idriss, as saying: “The West promises and promises. This is a joke now. . . . What are our friends in the West waiting for? For Iran and Hezbollah to kill all the Syrian people?”
After a three-day visit to Syria and to refugee camps in neighboring countries, Leila Zerrougui the UN’s special representative for children and armed conflict came to a shocking conclusion: the ongoing conflict will “force a generation of children to grow up illiterate and filled with hate”.
Having singled out illiteracy as a major problem for Syrian children, Zerrougui did go on to say that children had been killed, injured, detained, and forced to witness or to commit atrocities.
Zerrougui then urged both sides to spare the children, warning that if they did not heed her call, once the war is over, they “will have to face a generation of children who lost their childhood, have a lot of hate and are illiterate.”
[On a personal note — by way of an explanation for the sarcastic tone of this post — while EA has a policy of not posting graphic images or footage from the conflict, every day we watch horrific videos showing wounded, dead or dying children in Syria. These children are not named, we do not know how old they are, or whether their parents are still alive. Neither do we know how many children have died in the conflict.
While Zerrougui’s comments were certainly made with the best intentions in mind, Syrian children face a far more pressing problem right now than the prospect of growing up illiterate.]
The Turkish military said late Wednesday that the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a Syrian Kurdish party, had seized control of Ras Al-Ain on the Turkish-Syrian border. The capture of Ras Al-Ain by Kurdish forces comes after days of fighting between Kurds and Islamist insurgents.
The Turkish military described the PYD, which has links with Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), as a “separatist terrorist organization”.
Turkey’s foreign minister also voiced concern at the spillover of violence from the war in its southern neighbor and called again on the United Nations Security Council, which has yet to come to a consensus over Syria, to act.
Reuters noted that Turkish troops had shot at PYD insurgents in Syria after two rocket propelled grenades fired from Syria struck a border post on the Turkish side of the frontier.
Photos posted on Thursday by activists from Kafr Nabl on Facebook — including the one below — purport to show pictures from the battle at the “Brick Factory”, or Qarmeed Camp, in Idlib Province.
Footage posted on Thursday purports to show home-made rockets being used to attack the “Brick Factory” or Qarmeed Camp, a strategic location in Idlib Province.
Screenshot from Wikimapia shows satellite image of location of the “Brick Factory”:
C.J. Chivers, writing in the New York Times, explains why the Brick Factory is such a key location:
Two of the most important [strongholds retained by the regime] have been a pair of mutually supporting positions between Ariha and Saraqib known almost universally in the area as the “Brick Factory” and the “Youth Camp,” names derived from each position’s prewar use. These two positions are in the lowlands at the foot of the Jebel al-Zawiya range, the mountainous area of the Idlib countryside, and virtually astride one of the four-lane highways that crisscross the region.
The brick factory is one of the most loathed positions in the area; from here the government troops routinely shell the surrounding Sunni villages. This place, simply put, kills and terrifies local people. The boom of its artillery is a frequent sound. Many residents visibly flinch when they hear the outgoing rounds, wondering where the shells will land. A view of the next image, below, shows one of the reasons the position has survived so long: the surrounding ground is thinly vegetated with olive groves, making an undetected approach difficult.
Al Jazeera English have published this short video report of the situation of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
Footage from Aleppo this week has shown the phenomenon of insurgents fighting not just Assad’s Syrian Arab Army but also irregular forces loyal to the President, dubbed Jaish Al Sha’abi — The People’s Army.
As we noted in an analysis earlier on Thursday, the regime is now relying on irregular forces to help it control major areas:
O’Bagy then makes a critical point — far from this being a standard campaign waged by an organised national military, Assad’s fight is now one of a patchwork of units:
Although the regime lacks the capacity to defeat the armed opposition decisively, it has been able to rely on air power and irregular forces to ensure control of Syria’s most populated and economically important districts while ceding less-strategically important parts of the countryside to rebel-control. However, in so doing, the nature of the regime forces has largely changed, now representing less of a national, standing army and more of a coalition of mainly militia forces with heavy weapons, including air power, at their disposal.
This eight-minute video from Monday purports to show insurgents attacking houses held by “Shabiha” — pro-Assad militia — from the Jaish Al Sha’abi:
A number of videos posted on Thursday also claim to show attacks against the Jaish Al Sha’abi in Aleppo, including this footage of a home-made mortar attack:
This video from Jarabulus in Aleppo Province purports to show a destroyed Jaish Al Sha’abi center. The rather blurry footage shows a building with pro-Assad banners on its walls:
Footage posted on Thursday shows clashes between insurgents and regime forces around the Civil Defense buildings and Al Muhlab barracks in Aleppo.
This video shows renewed clashes on Thursday:
This footage purports to show insurgents from Aleppo’s Ashrafiyeh district infiltrating buildings close by the Al Muhlab barracks and the Civil Defense (see map).
Footage from Wednesday also claims to show insurgent advances on the Civil Defense buildings:
Map showing location of the barracks and Civil Defense buildings:
Lebanese State media reports that a Syrian warplane violated Lebanon’s airspace at 1:30 a.m. Thursday and fired two rockets on the outskirts of the northeastern border town of Arsal.
There were no casualties.
Syrian fighter jets and helicopter gunships have carried out several raids on Arsal this year.
Footage posted Wednesday of an insurgent and activist run soup kitchen (or a couscous kitchen) in Aleppo’s Myassar Al Jazmati district, near the Aleppo International Airport.
Footage posted by activists on Thursday shows strikes in Nawa, Daraa, after insurgents took over the town’s checkpoint on Wednesday.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad appointed a new governor for Homs on Wednesday — Talal al-Barazi. The move comes as regime forces appear to have been unable, at least so far, to assert complete control over Homs despite an extensive bombardment of insurgent-held portions of the city.
Syria’s Permanent representative to the UN complained on Wednesday that its State media was “targeted by terrorists and the states which sponsor and support them” and that foreign journalists were infiltrating into Syria.
Speaking at a UN Security Council session on civilians and journalists in armed conflicts, Dr. Bashar al-Jaafari said that “armed terrorist groups” had assassinated reporter Mohammad Darra Jamo in Lebanon on Wednesday.
Jamo was killed by gunmen at his home in the southern Shi’ite Muslim town of Sarafand in Lebanon, according to Lebanese security sources. Jamo had made frequent appearances on Arab TV channels to promote Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Al Jafaari also said that Syria had granted access permits to over 300 foreign journalists, who had been allowed to “work freely”. The Syrian government was also working to try to release kidnapped journalists, he claimed.
The Local Coordination Committees in Syria claim 91 people were killed on Wednesday, including 37 in Damascus and its suburbs and 26 in Aleppo Province.
The Violations Documentation Center reports that 66,469 people have been slain since the start of the conflict in March 2011, an increase of 102 since Wednesday. Of these, 50,702 were civilians, a rise of 72 from yesterday.