UPDATE 2100 GMT: Insurgents have taken the village of as-Samra.
As-Samra is southwest of Kassab, the village on the Turkish border taken by insurgents at the start of the Latakia offensive last weekend.
Insurgents tear down Assad poster:
Footage from Monday of opposition fighters gathering in the village:
(h/t Joanna Paraszczuk)
UPDATE 1800 GMT: Insurgents have taken “Tower 45”, a key objective in their offensive in Latakia Province in western Syria.
The tower is near Kassab village, claimed by insurgents at the start of the offensive last weekend.
The assault on the tower:
An excited Ahrar al-Sham commander:
Insurgents preparing for the attack:
Insurgents trampling on an image of President Assad:
The insurgent flag on Tower 45:
@Sham_Brigades اجمل مافي مجاهدي الشام انهم ينسبون الفضل لله دائماً ، الحمدلله .
— شبكة أخبار البحرين (@elbahrain) March 25, 2014
UPDATE 1330 GMT: Insurgents from Ansar as-Sham reach Mediterranean in their offensive in coastal Latakia Province:
Pursuing a major offensive in Latakia Province and continuing other operations in northern and southern Syria, insurgents inflicted heavy losses on regime forces on Monday.
Well-placed sources say that President Assad’s fighters have suffered about 1000 casualties since last Friday across fronts from Latakia to Idlib and Aleppo in the northwest to to Quneitra and Daraa in the south.
State media have confirmed the death of Hilal al-Assad, the President’s cousin who led the militia of the National Defense Forces in Latakia. The claimed deaths of two other Assad cousins, Ali and Kafeh, are still unconfirmed.
In Aleppo, Brigadier General Samea Yusuf Abbas, the head of a Republican Guard unit, has been killed.
The funeral of Hilal al-Assad on Monday in Latakia city:
The insurgents launched what appears to be a well-coordinated and long-planned offensive in Latakia in western Syria on Friday. They soon took the Kassab crossing, the regime’s last border link with Turkey. Opposition fighters also moved into the nearby village of the same name, although fighting continues.
Ahrar al-Sham fighters moving into Kassab:
Fighters evacuating families to safety:
News of the southern front from Daraa to Quneitra, close to the Golan Heights and the demilitarized zone with Israel, is limited because of a media blackout by the insurgents.
In Aleppo, however, gains by opposition forces on the northwest edge of the city and attacks on an Air Force intelligence base have been reported by websites linked to foreign fighters.
Insurgents are now attacking Tell Shuwehneh, a hilltop overlooking western Aleppo city and close to several Syrian military facilities — Joanna Paraszczuk has a full account from the website of the Chechen faction Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar:
The attack on the Air Force Intelligence Base in northwest Aleppo city:
Claimed Footage of Children in Trench to Avoid Shelling
Claimed footage of children in a trench in Kafrsita in Hama Province to avoid the shelling of their homes:
An attack near Kafrsita:
Arab League Summit: Opposition, Saudis Call for Arms to Insurgency
Syria’s opposition has appealed to an Arab League summit for “sophisticated” weapons to the insurgency, supported by Saudi Arabia’s declaration of the need for a change in the military balance to “end the impasse” in the conflict.
In contrast, United nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, insisted on an “end to the supply of arms to all parties” to encourage a “political solution” to the conflict.
The head of the Syrian National Coalition, Ahmed Jarba, told the summit that a decision not to hand over Syria’s seat in the Arab League to the opposition sends the wrong message to President Assad that he can continue “to kill”.
The Syrian seat was allocated to the Coalition at the last summit, held in Qatar in 2013, but has not been handed over because the opposition has yet to meet legal requirements, according to the League.
Saudi Foreign Minister, Crown Prince Salman accused the world of “betraying” the opposition by failing to arm them, leaving them as “easy prey”.
Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani accused the Assad regime of lying in “pretending to accept a political solution” as it was “buying time”.
Brahimi urged a revival of peace talks, even though he said on Monday that a resumption — following last month’s stalemate at Geneva, was “out of the question for the time being”.
More Than 100 Homs Evacuees Still Held for “Security Checks”
Anne Barnard of The New York Times, who is on a trip to Homs, reports that scores of those evacuated from the Old City in early February are still effectively detained:
School building where Homs evacuees are held. About 100 still awaiting results of security checks, some w/families. pic.twitter.com/Ahj7vRMhIz
— Anne Barnard (@ABarnardNYT) March 25, 2014
Barnard says that, while the University is “open and bustling”, other efforts at showing life-is-normal are not so successful:
Homs, Syria. New clock tower; deserted, damaged Droubi street. gov security tanks, troops, few blocks from insurgents pic.twitter.com/FH9AAknICk
— Anne Barnard (@ABarnardNYT) March 24, 2014
And the city is far from secure:
Noor, 5, having a smoothie in Homs, Syria. Her mother: Only a few streets feel totally safe. We don't go out at nite. pic.twitter.com/PEXQp4q5Gx
— Anne Barnard (@ABarnardNYT) March 25, 2014
Defector: Assad’s Brother and Tycoon Makhlouf Formed National Militia in July 2011 to “Kill and Torture Protesters”
Abdul Salam, a former ally of Syrian tycoon and President Assad’s cousin Rami Makhlouf, has spoken of the decision to form the militia of the National Defense Forces in July 2011, four months after the start of the uprising:
I was one of eight people invited by Maher (Assad, commander of the elite 4th Division) and Rami to meet in 2011. They are the brains behind the shabiha (militia) operation. They offered us money, weapons, anything we needed.
Salam, who is now in eastern Turkey, told The Telegraph of London:
(Maher and Rami) told us they were worried that the army, in front of the world’s media, couldn’t use the necessary force to stop the protests. They couldn’t be seen to be shooting the protestors. So their idea was: “Let’s keep our hands clean and create a paramilitary group to do the dirty work.”
They wanted to put each of us in charge of the shabiha militia in different parts of the country. They briefed us that the shabiha should set out to terrify protesters. They really believed they could scare the opposition into submission and that soon everyone would go home….
They told us to kill protesters, armed or unarmed, and to “torture those you capture”.
Salam asserts that Maher Assad “told us we could source shabiha for our units from prisoners held in Homs and Tartous jails” and that “most Alawites who were on death row for their crimes were suddenly released” to join the militia.