PHOTO: Mahambel and Basanqul have fallen to the rebel advance in the Idlib-Hama corridor — could Latakia be next?
Syria’s rebels continued to make significant advances on Saturday in the Idlib-Hama corridor, putting the question of a last stand in Idlib Province — and thus a halt to possible opposition moves towards Latakia in western Syria, Hama city in the center, or Aleppo city in the northwest — to President Assad and his forces.
In 48 hours, the Jaish al-Fatah rebel coalition has swept along the M4 highway west of Ariha. They have taken the military compound at al-Qiyasat, the town of Mahambel, and a series of villages and hills. Syrian forces have put up little resistance, fleeing — apparently in some disorder — along the highway towards the town of Frikka.
By Saturday afternoon, Jaish al-Fatah had moved within 3 km (2 miles) of Frikka, capturing the Sheikh Khattab mount.
If Frikka, the last significant regime position in Idlib along the M4 cannot be held, then rebels are likely to continue through the al-Ghab Plain into Hama Province. Jaish al-Fatah already holds about 1/3 of the plain, taken during their offensive after the capture of the city of Jisr al-Shughour in late April.
The rebels could also strike towards Latakia Province, a base of support for the Assad regime. On Saturday, fighters moved along the Nabi Younis mountain, only 3 km from the major regime encampment at Joureen.
In Idlib, the regime now holds only Frikka, a pair of enclaves north of Idlib city, and the isolated Abu Duhour airbase in the east of the province.
A report from the M4 highway, with images of destroyed regime vehicles and bodies of troops (Warning — Graphic):
A tour of Basanqul, with rebels pointing out aid taken from the Red Crescent and slain fighters — “These were mercenaries for Bashar al-Assad” (Warning — Graphic):
Syrian troops fleeing Mahambel:
US Confirms Airstrike on Islamic State Near Rebel Frontlines in Aleppo Province
US Central Command has confirmed an airstrike on the Islamic State near rebel frontlines in northern Aleppo Province.
Central Command said the attack, one of 11 that it acknowledged from 6 a.m. Saturday to 6 a.m. Sunday, was “near Aleppo” and hit “an ISIL tactical unit, destroying an ISIL ant-aircraft artillery piece and an ISIL fighting position”.
Media activists with rebels said on Saturday that the attack was close to Sarwan, the center of a two-week Islamic State offensive against rebels. Unconfirmed claims said the attack killed eight Islamic State fighters and wounded 20 (see earlier entry).
The strike is the first by the US on the Islamic State as the militants fight Syrian rebels.
Elsewhere, the US carried out two airstrikes, destroying four Islamic State positions and a vehicle, “near Hasakah”. The raids came as Syrian forces
There were three US strikes near Raqqa, the Islamic State’s central position in northern Syria, and five near the Kurdish center of Kobane.
Over the 24-hour period, the US carried out 11 missions against the Islamic State in Iraq.
Regime Barrel-Bombing of 20 Locations Across Syria on Sunday
Syrian barrel-bombing is being reported across the country, including an attack on Zaafarana in Homs Province that killed at least 10 people.
Footage of an assault, from the hovering of a helicopter to the bombing to the aftermath, on Maarat al-Nu’man in Idlib Province:
— Aura (@AuraSalix) June 7, 2015
An activist lists the strikes: Idlib Province — Maarat al-Nu’man, Ihsim, Balshon, Marata, Kafrshlaya, Kansafra, Iblin, Basamis, al-Qiyasat, Mahambel; #Homs Province: Talbisah, al-Zaafarana, Deirful; Damascus Province — Haza; Hama Province — Latamneh; Aleppo Province — Jib al-Qubeh, Mare’, Azaz, Qadi al-Askar, al-Maisar.
Video: Kurds and Free Syrian Army Close on Islamic State in Tel Abyad, Near Turkish Border
A Kurdish-Free Syrian Army force is closing on the Islamic State in the town of Tel Abyad, near a border crossing with Turkey.
The force has been advancing both from the west and east in recent weeks. Capture of Tel Abyad would take a key supply line from the Islamic State and close the gap between Syrian Kurdistan’s Kobane and Cezire cantons.
Kurds moving into a village near Tel Abyad:
Claims: US Warplanes Kill 8, Wound 20 in Attack on Islamic State Near Rebel Frontlines in Aleppo Province
Unconfirmed claims are circulating that eight Islamic State fighters were killed and 20 wounded in the first US-led airstrike on IS positions near their offensive against Syrian rebels.
Media activists with rebel units said on Saturday night that US warplanes had hit the Islamic State in Sawran, the center of fighting since the militants launched their offensive two weeks ago on a 25-km (16-mile) front.
Five Air strikes by the international coalition in the N aleppo against Isis positions near from Mare' and Soran towns thirty minutes ago
— Yusuf Eissa (@YousefNat) June 6, 2015
@SebastianX We are sure , it is international coalition not SAA
— Yusuf Eissa (@YousefNat) June 6, 2015
Rebels had criticized the Americans, who have repeatedly attacked the Islamic State in and near Kurdish areas, for not striking the militants in northern Aleppo. Meanwhile, the Syrian air force has been attacking rebel-held towns such as Mare’ and Tel Rifaat.
Aftermath of a regime airstrike on civilian areas of Mare’ on Sunday:
Video: Rebels Claim Attack Killing 10 Hezbollah in Western Aleppo
Rebels claim 10 Hezbollah fighters were killed in this attack on a building in al-Rashidin in western Aleppo city:
Reports: Syrian Troops Push Islamic State Back From Hasakah City
Regime forces have pushed the Islamic State back from the outskirts of Hasakah city in northeast Syria, after more than a week of attacks by the militants.
The city’s power plant, the al-Ahdath prison, and the villages of al-Watwatiyah and al-Mishtal Al-Zura’yya were reclaimed by the Syrian military.
The Islamic State launched its assault in late May near and in the provincial capital of Hasakah, taking checkpoints and villages and fighting for control of the power plant and prison. The militants briefly entered southeast Hasakah before they were pushed back.
Syrian forces have been supported by Kurdish YPG units and Assyrian militias, although there have been some reports that the Kurds are hesitating to become fully involved alongside Assad’s troops.
Syrian soldiers at the power plant:
State TV’s report:
Senior Official Rezaei Denies Iran Sending Troops to Syria
The Secretary of the Expediency Council, Mohsen Rezaei, has denied reports that Iran is sending thousands of troops to prop up Syria’s Assad regime amid recent rebel victories.
Rezaie said on Sautrday, “Iran’s policy on Syria crisis has been clearly made from the beginning.”
The head of Iran’s elite Qods Force, General Qassem Soleimani, visited Syria in late May after rebels swept through Idlib Province in the northwest and threatened further moves on Latakia, Hama, or Aleppo.
Drawing on a report from the Iranian paramilitary organization Ansar-e Hezbollah, Arab newspapers claimed Iran was considering the intervention of up to 50,000 Iranian, Iraqi, and Afghan fighters. An Assad regime official said 7,000 had arrived, with a goal of 10,000 to defend Damascus and retake parts of Idlib Province.
Rezaei insisted, “Iran’s aid to the regional countries has always been of a humanitarian nature.”
(Cross-posted from Iran Daily)