PHOTO: Troops of the Syrian military’s 4th Mechanized Division before the latest offensive north and west of Aleppo
Heavy fighting was reported north of Aleppo on Sunday, as another pro-Assad offensive attacked near the last major route to opposition-held parts of Syria’s largest city.
Supported by Russian bombing and by artillery, the Syrian military, a Syrian Palestinian brigade, and foreign militias attacked the al-Mallah Farms. Pro-regime outlets, claiming information from troops on the ground, said part of the area was captured. Pro-opposition accounts acknowledged the advance, but said that rebels were fighting to retake the territory.
Mallah is near the village of Handarat and the key road into eastern Aleppo city. Pro-Assad forces have tried for months to close off the route.
The offensive appeared to be close to success after Russian-backed gains in the autumn. However, after a short-lived February 27 cessation of hostilities agreement, rebels and Jabhat al-Nusra held out against renewed operations.
Meanwhile, rebel-Nusra forces regained territory south of Aleppo city, inflicting a series of defeated on Iranian units and Iranian-led Iraqi and Afghan militia.
Reports: Rebel Counter-Attack in Latakia Province
Rebels launched a counter-attack on Monday in Latakia Province in western Syria.
Pro-rebel accounts say the attack has taken ground in the mountains of Jabal Turkmen and Jabal al-Akrad, capturing the villages of al-Qarmeel, Nahshabah, Mazghalah, and the Rasha hilltop.
Enabled by intense Russian airstrikes, a regime offensive took much of northern Latakia Province last autumn, including the key town of Salma, and moved into the town of Kinsibba in February.
However, since a now-dormant February 27 cessation of hostilities, rebels have held onto their remaining positions, including the town of Kabani, and launched some attacks.
Jordanian Authorities Block Food to 70,000 Refugees Near Border
Jordanian authorities are continuing to block food assistance to up to 70,000 refugees trapped just inside Syria.
Security measures were tightened near the Ruqban camp after seven Jordanian border guards were killed last Tuesday by a suicide vehicle bomber, believed to be an Islamic State fighter. The area was declared a closed military zone.
Aid workers said that, since the attack, food convoys have been held up in Ruwaished, the closest town to Ruqban. Water was finally allowed through lasts Friday.
“Access continues to be denied and we are concerned because these trapped people have basic needs,” said Red Cross spokesperson Hala Shamlawi.
The few supplies coming into the area are from smuggler rings inside Syria. “We know the food rations will run out soon, probably in a few days’ time….This is a matter of concern,” said Dina El Kassaby, regional spokesperson of the World Food Program.
The refugees have been held in the camp, known as “The Berm” because of sand barriers, since Jordan closed the border last year.
Turkey’s Erdoğan Apologizes for Downing of Russian Warplane
The Kremlin says that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has apologized to Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin over November’s downing of a MiG-24 warplane, killing the pilot.
The Russian jet fighter was shot down when, according to Ankara, it crossed into Turkish airspace near the Syrian border. The MiG-24 crashed just inside Syria in Latakia Province. The pilot was reportedly shot as he parachuted to the ground. His navigator was rescued by Syrian commandos.
Regime Warplane Shot Down by Rebels in Qalamoun Region
The rebel faction Jaish al-Islam says that it downed a regime MiG-29 warplane in the Qalamoun region on Monday. The crew has been killed, the rebels said.
The jet fighter was hit near the al-Seen military airbase in eastern Damascus Province. Opposition outlet Orient News said, citing “special sources”, that it was targeted with a thermal missile as it carried out attacks on residential areas.
The incident came 16 hours after a hovering regime helicopter was shot down by Jaish al-Islam in East Ghouta near Damascus. The rebels reportedly used a short-range Osa missile.
5 Killed in Suicide Bombings in Lebanon Near Syrian Border
A group of suicide bombers killed five people and wounded at least 15 in a northeastern Lebanese village a few hundred meters from the Syrian border on Monday, according to a Lebanese military official and paramedics.
The explosions by four bombers were in the predominantly Christian village of Qaa, about 150 meters from a customs border point. No group immediately claimed responsibility.
The suicide attacker blew himself up in front of a home after civilian security guards became suspicous. The three other attackers followed as people gathered in the area.
Video: 1,159 Affected in 2nd Food Poisoning in Opposition-Held Area Near Damascus
Pro-opposition Orient News reported on a second mass outbreak of food poisoning in two weeks in the East Ghouta area near Damascus:
The outlet said 1,159 people had been treated for symptoms after eating food supplied by the Charity Kitchen.
In an earlier outbreak, 265 people, including 128 children, were admitted to a clinic with stomach pain, vomiting, fever, hypotension, and diarrhea.
Syria Direct reached out to more than 10 citizen journalists in East Ghouta, all of whom refused to identify the charity allegedly responsible for distributing the spoiled food.
A local journalist said the food was handed out by, Sa’ad, a charity administered by the leading rebel faction Jaish al-Islam. However, he said reporters were afraid to speak out because of fear of detention.
A doctor said the food had been cooked in the morning but then left in hot conditions until sunset, awaiting the Iftar dinner breaking the Ramadan fast.
US: Arms for Syrian Rebels Stolen by Jordanian Intelligence and Sold on Black Market
US- and Saudi-supplied arms for Syria’s rebels have been systematically stolen by Jordanian intelligence operatives and sold to arms merchants on the black market, according to American and Jordanian officials.
FBI officials believe some of the stolen weapons were used in a shooting in November that killed five people, including two Americans, at a police training facility in Amman.
The stolen arms included Kalashnikov assault rifles, mortars, and rocket-propelled grenades. Jordanian officials said the intelligence operatives used money from the black-market sales to buy SUVs, iPhones, and other luxury items.
Mohammad H. al-Momani, Jordan’s Minister of State for media affairs, said allegations that Jordanian intelligence officers had been involved in any arms theft were “absolutely incorrect”: “Weapons of our security institutions are concretely tracked, with the highest discipline.”