Syria Daily, Mar 31: The New Frontlines Settle in Latakia and Qalamoun
IMAGE: An insurgent in Nab’ain in Latakia Province in western Syria
A relatively quiet Sunday, as both insurgents and the regime consolidated recent gains.
Having repulsed the Syrian military’s counter-attacks, opposition fighters settled into villages like Kassab and Nab’ain in Latakia Province in western Syria.
In the 10-day offensive, the insurgents have taken the regime’s last border post with Turkey, moved several miles into the coastal province, and fired rockets on towns like Qardaha, the ancestral home of President Assad.
A summary from a pro-opposition outlet of the victory in Nab’ain:
An insurgent inside an armored police van damaged in the fighting:
An insurgent tour of a church in Kassab — opposition fighters claim they are not desecrating religious sites or endangering the area’s Armenian Christian community:
Syrian forces secured their hold on cities and towns in the Qalamoun region between Damascus and the Lebanese border. After taking the largest city in the area, Yabroud, earlier this month, President Assad’s troops have captured surrounding villages and captured the last insurgent posts on the Lebanese frontier.
The Syrian military launched the Qalamoun offensive in November and have taken cities and towns such as Yabroud, Nabk, and Qara.
Report: Insurgents Down Helicopter with 34 Assad Troops
A well-placed source says insurgents have downed a helicopter — or that it crashed after a near-miss by a missile — with more than 30 Assad troops over a Hama military airport.
Radio Free Syria says the transport was taking off from Abu Dahour military airbase. All on board — the crew, four military officers, and 30 soldiers — died.
Islamic Front Denies Regime Claims of Atrocities in Capture of Kassab in Latakia Offensive
The Islamic Front has rejected claims by a “desperate Assad regime” that insurgents committed abuses against civilians as they took the village of Kassab at the start of the Latakia offensive last week.
The Front specifically denied allegations of offenses against the largely Armenian Christian community as a “smear campaign” to portray the insurgency as brutal and sectarian: “We have never had, nor will it ever hold malevolent intention towards any religious or ethnic group in Syria.”
The Front said that the departure of civilians from Kassab was due to fears of being caught up in fighting and being shelled by regime forces, rather than being brutalized by opposition forces.
Insurgents have posted videos showing fighters respecting Christian churches and speaking to elderly Armenian Christians.
The Front concluded, “The Syrian revolution is based on the principles of freedom, dignity, and inclusiveness.”
Turkish and Syrian Militaries Exchange Fire Across Border
The Turkish military fired into Syria on Monday, after mortar shells and a rocket launched from Syria hit a mosque in the Turkish town of Yayladagi.
Three mortar rounds landed on Turkish soil, amid the insurgent offensive in Latakia Province across the Syrian border. A rocket hit a mosque next to a refugee camp, injuring a 50-year-old Syrian woman who was passing.
“Our artillery troops have fired back at the region from where the shots originated,” the governor’s office of Turkey’s Hatay Province said in a statement on its website.
State Media: Regime Troops Retake Tower 45 in Latakia Province
State news agency SANA claims Syrian troops and militia have re-taken Tower 45, the hilltop overlooking Kassab in northern Latakia Province.
Insurgents had seized Tower 45 last week, inflicting heavy losses on Assad forces, near the start of their 10-day offensive.
SANA said its correspondent in Latakia had seen the military destroy six vehicles equipped with heavy machine guns as insurgents fled.
However, a well-placed source in Syria says that insurgents still hold Tower 45, although regime forces “pressed hard” to reclaim the hilltop.
Islamic Front Gives Details on Latakia Offensive
The insurgent faction Jabhat al-Nusra has posted a statement on the “al-Anfal” offensive in Latakia Province, summarizing opposition advances.
Jabhat al-Nusra claims the capture of ammunition and rockets and says insurgents destroyed nine tanks and more than 100 cars and trucks.
The fighters have posted videos of rocket attacks on the Hamemine airfield and on the National Defense Headquarters in Qardaha:
The insurgents said six rockets were fired on the airfield and four on the National Defense Headquarters.
Video: Insurgent Tour of Morek in Hama Province
The insurgent faction Suqour as-Sham leads a video tour of Morek in Hama Province:
The town has been under attack for weeks by regime forces, including aerial bombardment.
Deprivation and Death in Besieged East Ghouta Near Damascus
The opposition Shaam News Network reports on the six-month siege of East Ghouta, near Damascus, and its 1 million people — more than 350,000 of them under the age of 14.
Shaam says the area is deprived of food electricity, services, medical supplies and personnel, and clean water. It claims at least 75 civilians have died from starvation, malnutrition, and lack of medication, with 10,000 injured by regime bombardment.
The United Nations and Red Crescent finally were able to bring an aid convoy of 16 cars into the area on Saturday, delivering about 1,500 food baskets and cleaning supplies; however, no medicine or medical supplies were included except for syringes for diabetic patients.
An activist and former Red Crescent volunteer said the convoy provided only a fraction of the 30,000 baskets needed each month for 140,000 families in the area.
Video: Former Detainee Leads Tour of Islamic State of Iraq Prison in Northwest Syria
A former detainee take British journalists around an Islamic State of Iraq and as-Sham prison in Azaz in northwest Syria:
ISIS withdrew from the town in February amid their battles with Syrian insurgents. The Iraqi-led group has been accused of torture and execution of prisoners.
The former detainee gives his first-hand account during the tour:
First they chained me to the door, then they handcuffed me to these bars for three hours and threw cold water on me….(Then) they hung me from the ceiling so my feet were not touching the ground.
Regime Continues Assault on Turkey Over Insurgent Victories in Latakia
The latest verbal attack by the regime on the Turkish Government has come from Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi, who said Ankara supported the entry of “armed terrorist groups” into Latakia Province in their 10-day offensive.
In an interview on Syrian State TV late Sunday, al-Zoubi said Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s acts violated international resolutions calling for opposition to terrorism: “The persons who entered Lattakia northern countryside are neither opposition members nor Syrian citizens, they are groups of armed and trained foreigners with certain purposes and agendas.”
The Assad regime has repeatedly blamed Ankara for the success of the insurgents in the offensive, including the capture of the regime’s last border crossing with Turkey, the nearby village of Kassab, and a key regime hilltop position, Tower 45.