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August has brought insurgent advances, such as the capture of Menagh Airbase and claiming of territory in Deir Ez Zor, Daraa, and Aleppo Provinces, but we begin Monday with news of a stalled insurgent offensive in northern Lattakia Province in western Syria.
The offensive, involving a wide range of factions from the Islamic State of Iraq and as-Sham to brigades of the Free Syrian Army, began two weeks ago and quickly claimed a series of villages and observation posts in the mountains. The opposition asserted it was close to Qaradaha, the ancestral home of President Assad.
However, the regime hit back with heavy shelling and airstrikes, and State media have claimed the re-capture of several villages.
On Sunday, insurgents confirmed the death of one commander, of the “Katiba Abdullah bin al-Mubarak” unit of the Islamist faction Liwa al-Umma, and claims circulated that a second commander had been slain.
Meanwhile, the Syrian air force continued its bombardment of the town of Salma, using missiles and explosive barrels:
More than 20,000 Syrian refugees have entered northern Iraq since Thursday, the United Nations said on Monday.
The Syrians took advantage of a new bridge along the largely-closed border.
For over a week, the regime has focussed on shelling and airstrikes on Deir Ez Zor’s Hawiqah neighborhood, captured by insurgents.
This video shows some of the destruction in Hawiqah as a result of the attacks:
The International Committee of the Red Cross spoke on Monday of the difficulties of getting humanitarian aid to Syrians, because of both the regime and the fragmented opposition.
“If the parties to a conflict are fragmented, this means that we have to gain that [trust] from every single group that might be involved where we want to go,” said Jurg Montani, the ICRC head in Lebanon.
The regime has “in principle” allowed the ICRC to work in rebel-held areas but has placed temporary restrictions on access to flashpoint areas, said Montani.
He continued with reference to recent areas of intense military action, “In practice, if we look at a situation like Homs or Qusayr, where we’d been trying to get in during the times of conflict… that’s when we had problems.”
Montani explained, “At one point or another we have access to everywhere in Syria. The problem is that we don’t always have access to the areas where we want to be at the time when we want to go there.”
Residents in southern Damascus near the Sayyida Zeinab Mosque, have said that a Hezbollah commander has been killed in fighting and then buried in his Lebanese hometown of Kfar Sir.
There have been reports of serious clashes near the shrine, wtih regime shelling of the area.
State news agency SANA continued its “all is well” reports on Monday, with stories about a Baathist-sponsored children’s festival in Damascus and state purchases of abundant wheat crops. On Sunday, SANA invited readers to enjoy a Damascus nightclub.
SANA reports that the Ministry of Tourism and the al-Baath Vanguards Organization have organized a “Young Tourist Festival” in Damascus, featuring fine arts workshops, drama shows, a puppet theater and concerts.
Tourist Minister Hala Al-Nasser said the festival combated a “misleading campaign hatched…by some media” and gave the message that “Life will continue and Syria will remain the cradle of innovation and inventors”, while al-Baath Vanguards Organization chief Izzat Arabi Katibi said the festival “reflects the children’s creativity and their ability to overcome the crisis.”
Meanwhile, amid reports that Syrian refugees from Qamishli and other towns in the north of Syria were flooding across the Iraqi border to flee violence, SANA reports good news from Qamishli — a bumper wheat crop.
SANA tells us that Qamishli’s Assistant Manager of the General Establishment for Trade and Purchasing of Grain said the government has purchased 535.5 thousand tons of durum and soft wheat and 92.93 thousand tons of barley at a cost of SYP 22.2 billion — an increase on SYP 17 billion least year!
If that were not enough good news, SANA used its Twitter account on Sunday to invite readers to enjoy Damascus’s rich nightlife, including live music at the Mood Lounge. While all is most certainly well in SANA’s portrayal of events, dangers still lurk — SANA warns us “Don’t Drink And Drive”.
— SANA English (@SANA_English) August 18, 2013
A promotional video from the Sham Falcons Brigade shows a convoy of insurgents being sent to support the offensive in Latakia Province, which has seen fierce retaliation from the regime:
The Sham Falcons Brigade includes officers and soldiers who defected from the Syrian Arab Army.
Video: Insurgents From At-Tadamon Neighborhood Coordination Clash With Regime In Al Qadam Station, Damascus
At-Tadamon is east of the train station and the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp.
In May, insurgents installed snipers in Al Qadam to prevent the regime from bringing support convoys.
Footage of the announcement of the formation of a new brigade, the Eastern Front Brigade, as insurgents from the Ahrar Souriya Brigade join together with insurgents from Manbij town in the Aleppo Eastern Countryside region.
Activists from south Damascus have issued a video statement warning that continued fighting in the area has caused a humanitarian disaster zone.
The statement says that around 45% of the areas in southerns Damascus is no longer habitable, because of the destruction caused by the bombing.
The activists say they want to declare southern Damascus a disaster area because the lives of around 600 thousand civilians are at risk of hunger and slow death, with families left without food and children, women and elders threatened with starvation.
The regime has intensified shelling and airstrikes in southern Damascus, including in the area around the Sayideh Zainab shrine. Shaam News Network reported on Monday that regime warplanes launched two airstrikes on the area. Meanwhile, insurgents claim to target regime strongholds and Hezbollah fighters in the area, as this footage from Sunday shows:
Footage from the Damascus neighborhood of Jobar showing insurgents from the Islamist Liwa Fustat al-Muslimeen using a Croatian M79-Osa anti-tank weapon (thanks to blogger @brownmoses for indentification).
A field report from July 28 shows that the regime has made a concerted effort to push into the northern Damascus suburbs of Jobar, Qaboun and Barzeh, including with airstrikes on July 26. Fierce clashes have continued since then, though so far insurgents have managed to prevent regime troops from storming the neighborhood.
A full clip, from start of operation to shoot-down, of the attack by the insurgent faction Ahrar al-Sham that struck a regime MiG jet fighter in Lattakia Province — the weapon was a Chinese-made FN-6 shoulder-fired missile:
On Sunday, we wrote about an insurgent attack on a regime checkpoint near Homs, which reportedly killed 11 people. We raised questions about the narrative in most media — fed by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights — that the opposition fighters had targeted Christians, including civilians.
This morning, a well-connected EA source offers a claim which could put new light and significance on the story:
The attack on the checkpoint was not in the west of the city [as media reported this weekend]. It was carried out day before test and it was more north or northeast of Homs, near a village called al-Mushrifa.
This wass a big checkpoint along the road to Hama, in an area where a lot of fighting has been happening over the past few months. There are a few training camps nearby, and insurgents have been trying to relieve the pressure off the regime siege of Homs.
The regime checkpoints protect regime strongholds in villages which shell insurgent-held areas.
About 15 troops were killed in the attack.
An EA correspondent, checking sources in Syria, says the confusion has arisen because there were two different attacks — and even more — on regime checkpoints near Homs.
Residents in Aleppo’s Ansari Al-Sarqi neighborhood stand in line to receive aid. At the beginning of the year, insurgent factions Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and Tawhid Brigade set up a joint council to deal with local issues, mostly in Ansari and Hanano.
Claims have been circulating that insrugents killed and displaced large numbers of Kurdish civilians amid the past month’s fighting in the north of Syria between the insurgency and Kurdish militias such as YPG and Jabhat al-Akrad — this report is from the Kurdish outlet Rudaw:
Firat News, posting this video with an English transcript, says residents “tell the horrors they livedand that have been carried out by the jihadists in the village of Til Hasil and Til Aran at the end of July”. It claims “aAt least 70 Kurdish civilians were killed brutally” with brigades of the Free Syrian Army and Jabhat al-Nusra involved in the attacks:
The Local Coordination Committees claim 91 people were killed on Sunday, including 18 children and 13 women.
Of the deaths, 31 were reported in Aleppo Province, 18 in Damascus and its suburbs, 15 in Idlib Province, and 14 in Daraa Province.
The Violations Documentation Center puts the number of dead at 69,986 since the start of the conflict, a rise of 190 since Sunday. Of these, 52,871 are civilians, an increase of 164 from yesterday.