Syria Daily, Mar 31: The New Frontlines Settle in Latakia and Qalamoun

Scott Lucas
By Scott Lucas March 31, 2014 07:47 Updated

Syria Daily, Mar 31: The New Frontlines Settle in Latakia and Qalamoun

Story Highlights

  • State media claims regime forces take Tower 45 in Latakia Province
  • Insurgents fire rockets on airfield & Assad home village in Latakia
  • 100,000s await aid in East Ghouta near Damascus

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IMAGE: An insurgent in Nab’ain in Latakia Province in western Syria

LATEST: Report: Insurgents Down Helicopter with 34 Assad Troops

MONDAY FEATURE

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.

Scott Lucas
By Scott Lucas March 31, 2014 07:47 Updated
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19 Comments

  1. RedTornadoes March 31, 22:05

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    JOHN KERRY’S DEPARTURE FROM REALITY

    Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post argues that the Obama/Kerry Mideast policies are delusional. His summary of Kerry’s claims in the first paragraph makes a solid case.

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    KNOWN TOTAL OF FUNERALS OF HEZBOLLAH FIGHTERS KILLED IN SYRIA AS OF MARCH 29

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    http://mostlyoff.wordpress.com/2014/03/31/funerals-of-hezbollah-fighters-killed-in-syria/

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    Reply to this comment
  2. RedTornadoes March 31, 20:56

    The following update is longer because it includes both new stuff and some items I tried to post hours ago but which did not appear because of a “Security token invalid” message.

    Reply to this comment
  3. RedTornadoes March 31, 20:52

    QUESTION OF THE DAY: Does Erdogan’s election victory give him a freer hand to intervene in Syria as Russia, Iran and proxies have done?

    BREAKING REPORT FROM SOAR ON MOUNT 45: Rebels Have Won!

    This tends to confirms what I just wrote below.

    CURRENT BATTLE MAP OF LATAKIA SUGGESTS REGIME HAS NOT TAKEN TOWER 45 AS MEDIA REPORTS
    Regime is now on offense, rebels on defense as map clearly shows. Rebels need to maximize Alawite Regime casualties, keep regime forces bogged down in Latakia as long as possible while continuing offensives elsewhere or launching new ones. To ensure that, the Islamic Front is reportedly sending reinforcements to Latakia. With the election over, it’s possible that Turkey could intervene as well. A regime supported by Putin, Iran and proxies would be in no position to complain.
    I’ve also seen some reports that rebels have repelled the regime assault on Tower 45. The media needs to remember that the regime often proclaims “victory” immediately upon launching an assault and we often learn later it wasn’t so.
    https://twitter.com/CdricLabrousse/status/450599606636646400/photo/1
    West of Ariha in Idlib Province, rebels have cut regime reinforcement attempts for the seventh day in a row, according to Markito0171.
    Rebels are now shelling regime forces in Jisr Al-Shughour.

    THE REGIME CANNOT SAFELY USE EITHER MAIN ROAD TO PALMYRA ANYMORE
    Everyone already knows that the main road from Damascus to Palmyra is cut thanks to rebel control of Adra and Dumeir. Now the other road from Homs is becoming increasingly unusable unless regime types have a death wish. Last week there were 18 attacks on the Palmyra/Hams road according to Arab Chronicle.
    AC also notes that the truce with Dumeir Air Base near the rebel-held town is now completely finished. Clashes are breaking out beween rebels and outnumbered regime forces. Most of the pilots at that base may have been killed in an attack some time ago according to some reports but that is not certain. Base defenders obviously are not in a good situation, either way.

    ALEPPO: Rebels say they’ve knocked off more than 20 Assad fighters near strategic Al Safira on the regime’s supply line to Aleppo. I believe they have or will have massive forces further down near the Al Salimeyeh area, where they can block any moves between Aleppo and Homs/Hama.

    BANIAS (near coast): A big fire is reported at the oil refinery. Cause unknown. Casualties reported. Rami al-Lola.

    DEIR EZZOR: An explosion in an NDF base in Al-Jora has killed an NDF leader and a number of fighters. Source: Tahrir Sy.

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    QALAMOUN: Arab Chronicle reports heavy clashes between rebel battalions and Hezbollah in the countryside near Jubbah, southwest of Yabrud.
    http://www.geographic.org/geographic_names/name.php?uni=-3496367&fid=6020&c=syria

    Syrian Rebels gunned down a regime helicopter that was flying over Abu Athuhoor military air base. That airbase and a nearby army base have been cut off by rebel victories in Khan Shaykhun and Morek to the south. North of all bases is all rebel held up to Idlib, which is surrounded and has been weakened by withdrawal of armored forces toward Lattakia.

    Reply to this comment
  4. RedTornadoes March 31, 20:15

    Have you been hacked? I haven’t been able to post lead posts today. I get this message: “Security Token Invalid.”

    Maybe I’ll try posting under responses instead, or shorter posts.

    My last update yesteray also never appeared.

    Reply to this comment
  5. Genome45 March 31, 17:55

    The massive and surprise rebel attack on North Lattakia was audacious, but ultimately it has no chance to succeed.

    The balance of force here favour owerwelmingly the governement. They need some time to regroup forces and then it’s all over for the rebels who have limited supply lines and no reinforcements available.

    It will turn out the same way than in August 2013.

    And in the meantime, Qalamoun rebel front is completely collapsing.

    Reply to this comment
    • Ali Bistani March 31, 19:15

      when the rebels lose a strategic area, its always time for a raid by foreign fighters into some minority area, with no hopes of holding the area, just driving the people out and spreading fear. Meanwhile their internet fanboys can cheer them on, only to say they were never supporting them when violent warcrimes from the hands of these chechens, libyans, turks, lebanese,… surface

      Reply to this comment
  6. Pak March 31, 15:36

    Border province punishes Turkey’s policy on Syria in polls
    http://www.trust.org/item/20140331140710-bvx6r

    Reply to this comment
  7. Caligola March 31, 13:54

    Latakia offensive momentum already over as regime fights back and retakes tower 45. Shame.

    Reply to this comment
    • Ali Bistani March 31, 17:42

      lol did you happen to catch the PR blunder by the rebels.

      Seems that a mixture of various radical muslim nationalities attacking an ethnic armenian area from turksih soil, and driving the population out of their homes has some reprecussions.

      The entire Kardashian family is online leading the #savekessab campaign.

      that 30M followers between 2 sisters. Their tweets will be seen by more people then the rebel copy paste propaganda from accounts with 10-100 followers, not even the internet rebel superstars 3-5k end up as a joke.

      Reply to this comment
      • Pak March 31, 19:44

        Samantha Power, US ambassador to the UN, also spoke out against the rebel offensive in Latakia: https://twitter.com/AmbassadorPower/status/449664684858548224

        Ignoring the fact that a deadly attack which has no strategic value and is intended as a “psychological victory” (EA’s words, not mine) is literally nothing more than terrorism in its purest form, the latest attacks in Latakia will also destroy any last semblance of legitimacy that Turkey has in Western policy circles. Not least because the Turks are re-enacting the Armenian genocide less than a century after the event, this time using Chechen and Al Qaeda affiliated foreign fighters to do their dirty work.

        The Kardashians, despite their many flaws, have always been proud Armenians. It makes me happy to see them speaking out against the Syrian opposition, particularly as they will reach an audience that would otherwise take no interest in Syria.

        Reply to this comment
  8. Pak March 31, 13:36

    According to pro-Hezbollah Al-Akhbar, the following Iranian proposal for Syria is being discussed with regional partners:

    - A comprehensive cease-fire at a national level.

    - Forming a national unity government consisting of the regime and the internal Syrian opposition.

    - Laying the grounds for a new regime by transferring presidential powers to the government whereby the government will enjoy wide-ranging powers in the years to come.

    - Preparing for presidential and parliamentary elections.

    See: http://english.al-akhbar.com/content/hezbollah-syria-and-egypt-verge-understanding

    It is remarkable how consistent Iran’s position has been since the outbreak of the civil war, unlike the schizophrenic, chaotic positions of the West and their regional buddies. Along with the dearth of ideological support for Assad, this latest initiative reaffirms Iran’s support for the Syrian state above everyone and everything else. It also exposes how useless the West’s ignorant position has been, in particular the freezing out of Iran from any dialogue. Having Turkey facilitate Chechen and Al Qaeda affiliated fighters in demolishing Armenian villages just goes to show the West’s moral and intellectual bankruptcy in this conflict.

    Reply to this comment
    • caligola March 31, 15:37

      Well considering the zero chances of any military success from the rebel side, i think and hope a similar kind of diplomatic agreement at thr end will prevail. Better this than the foreign aides of the rebels shutting down the supplies (i dont think supplies will be for ever considering the few progresses and int. pressure) and the rebels beeing crushed all over the country. Sad if compared to what could have been in late 2012.

      Reply to this comment
  9. Pak March 31, 11:34

    Members of Congress Condemn Kessab Attacks
    http://www.armenianweekly.com/2014/03/29/chairman-menendez-congressional-armenian-caucus-co-chairs-members-of-congress-condemn-kessab-attacks/

    “Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) was joined by Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chairs Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), Armenian Genocide Resolution Lead Sponsors David Valadao (R-Calif.) and Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Representatives Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), Jim Costa (D-Calif.) and James McGovern (D-Mass.) in condemning the recent attacks against the historically Armenian city of Kessab, Syria, urging the State Department to investigate the incursion and take immediate action to safeguard the vulnerable population, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).

    In a letter to constituents sent earlier today, Chairman Menendez stated, “Like you, I am gravely concerned by reports of a March 21, 2014 attack on the predominantly Syrian Armenian town of Kessab, near the Turkish border, by al-Qaeda-linked terrorists based in Turkey. Attacks of this nature are another example of a dangerous new chapter in the violence now engulfing Syria; one where Syrian minorities are actively targeted by Islamic extremists because of their religion and ethnicity. I condemn all such attacks, including those on Armenian Christians.”

    In a joint letter to President Obama, Representatives Pallone, Grimm, Valadao and Schiff echoed these concerns, noting “When coupled with a mass exodus of the Armenian community, these events are far too reminiscent of the early days of the Armenian Genocide, which took place nearly 100 years ago in Ottoman Turkey under the cover of World War I.” The letter goes on to state, “With the Christian Armenian community being uprooted from its homeland, yet again, we strongly urge you to take all necessary measures without delay to safeguard the Christian Armenian community of Kessab. We also believe that now is the time to redouble America’s efforts to ensure that all minority communities at risk in the Middle East are afforded greater protection.””

    Reply to this comment
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