1,500 people leave in first set of removals of 15,000 from last opposition district in Homs
The Assad regime celebrated the first batch of forced removals on Saturday from al-Wa’er, the last opposition-held district in Syria’s third-largest city Homs.
About 1,500 rebels, family members, and other civilians departed for Jarablus in northern Syria on the Turkish border. Up to 15,000 of the estimated 50,000 people in the district will eventually leave over the next six weeks, in one of the largest forced removals of the six-year conflict.
Last week, after four years of siege and regular bombardment, the opposition capitulated in an agreement brokered by the Russian military. The Russians replaced Iranian officials to mediate and guarantee the arrangements, including safe passage to Jarablus and Idlib Province in northwest Syria.
A Russian colonel said on State TV on Saturday, “This agreement was reached only under the patronage of the Russian side.”
The Governor of Homs Province, Talal Barazi, said, “The preparations and the reality on the ground indicate that things will go well….We are optimistic that the full exit of armed [men] from this district will pave the way for other reconciliations and settlements.”
In December, tens of thousands of people were moved from eastern Aleppo as pro-Assad forces reoccupied all of Syria’s largest city after incessant bombing and a four-month siege. Other “reconciliation” deals have been struck near Damascus, although the Assad regime and its allies are currently breaking some of them — notably with offensives against the towns of Barzeh and Qaboun — in an attempt to expand control.
The head of the Homs Media Center said of the removals, “Because there is zero trust in Assad’s government, that’s why the numbers are high….For years, it has besieged us…and bombed people’s homes.”
He said that many people feared arrested if they stayed, and that he was joining the departures: “People are going to live in tents, in refugee camps. They are willing to leave their homes, their land, towards the unknown.”
Video: The Mosque Annex Bombed by US, Killing 56 People
Bilal Abdul Kareem of On The Ground News takes viewers through the mosque annex bombed by US manned and unmanned warplanes on Thursday, killing 56 people.
The Pentagon claimed on Friday that it struck an “Al Qa’eda meeting” in a building across from the al-Khattab mosque in al-Jina in western Aleppo Province. However, residents confirmed that the building was an assembly and dining hall, being used by about 300 people for evening prayers.
Rebel Counter-Offensive in Northeast Damascus
Rebels have launched a sudden counter-offensive in the Jobar section of northeast Damascus, taking several buildings and attempting to reach a key roundabout.
The attacking forces include Faylaq al-Rahman and some fighters of the jihadist bloc Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, coordinating with the Free Syrian Army, Ahrar al-Sham, and Jaish al-Islam units fighting the Assad regime on nearby fronts.
The advance began with two vehicle bombs, about 250 meters behind the frontline. It has reportedly taken an electricity station (see map) and is trying capture a transport garage near the al-Abbasiyeen roundabout.
The regime has reportedly carried out about 24 airstrikes to try and check the attacks.
Rebels are hoping to counter a pro-Assad offensive which has been trying in recent weeks to take the nearby suburbs of Barzeh, Qaboun, and Tishreen, despite “reconcilation” agreements from early 2014. Pro-opposition activists says rebels have established a link between the Jobar and Qaboun units.
A pro-Assad activist acknowledges:
Smoke over Damascus with militants trying to reach Abbasiyeen square, intense clashes around electrical station + SAA denies losing garage pic.twitter.com/iBYHHz3T9z
— Hassan Ridha (@sayed_ridha) March 19, 2017
Image of one of the vehicle bombs launching the counter-offensive:
Videos of smoke rising from the attacks:
— همام عيسى Hammam Isa (@Hemmemisa4) March 19, 2017
— موسى العمر (@MousaAlomar) March 19, 2017