For the fifth day in a row, the Local Coordination Committees reported a sharp decrease in civilian deaths from bombing, especially near Damascus. The LCC said that it had documented 26 people killed across Syria on Tuesday, eight of them in or near the capital.

In the previous week from February 5 to 12, hundreds of civilians were killed and hundreds more were wounded in regime air and artillery attacks. More than 250 people died in Douma, northeast of Damascus, alone.

The near-halt in the aerial assault corresponds with a threat by Jaish al-Islam, the largest rebel faction in Douma, to renew rocket attacks on military positions in Damascus if the Assad regime continued bombing.

Twice in the last three weeks, Jaish al-Islam fired rockets on regime checkpoints, buildings, and installations. Last Thursday, hundreds of rockets were launched into southern Damascus, effectively paralyzing the capital.

A source close to officials in Damascus believes that the show of force has deterred the regime:

You cannot imagine what it was like that day [Thursday]. There were more than 400 rockets. Everyone went home and sheltered. Schools were closed. Government employees left their offices, which were shut down. All business stopped.

Assad’s people wanted to say that Zahran Alloush [the leader of Jaish al-Islam] was making empty threats, but he showed what he could do.

The attacks were not limited to rockets last Thursday. Rebels also made a dramatic point when they challenged Syrian forces at the Jamraya military research center, which has been the center of efforts over chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons in the past.

Witnesses in the area, including an employee, report a four-hour firefight at the complex, which came to prominence when it was struck by Israeli warplanes in May 2013.

The rebels have also continued disruption of the capital’s gas pipelines and power stations, cutting off electricity to parts of Damascus for most of the day. Video on Monday showed bombing at the Tishreen power plant.

The regime’s apparent limit on aerial attacks comes as it continues to pursue its counter-offensive south of Damascus. Little movement was reported on Monday, with the Syrian military reportedly moving troops from other areas, such as Jobar in northeast Damascus, to the 20-km (12-mile) front in southern Damascus and northern Daraa Provinces.

The counter-offensive, which began early last week, has captured some territory — such as the town of Deir al-Addas — but is having difficulty securing it and making further advances.

Rebels continue to claim that they are inflicting significant casualties, not only among Syrian troops but also among Hezbollah and Iranian fighters. Sources near the frontline assert that Iran is operating an “air bridge” of four to planes per day, packed with militia, arms, and ammunition. They provocative claim, “The planes are returning with body bags.”

Meanwhile, sources in Damascus explain the concern of the Assad regime. If the counter-offensive fails to roll back insurgent advances of recent months, then the southern flank of the capital — reportedly protected by three armored columns — may be vulnerable.

More Details on Regime Offensive Near Aleppo — Outcome Inconclusive

Citizen journalists have given Syria Direct details of the regime offensive north of Aleppo that started on Monday night.

Syrian forces — including Hezbollah, Iranian, and other foreign fighters — launched a surprise attack on the villages of Bashqwy, Hardantain, and Rityan. The area is between the besieged regime enclave of Nubl and al-Zahraa and a main supply route from the Turkish border to Aleppo.

Taking advantage of morning fog, one attacking group moved from Nubl and al-Zahraa towards Hardantain. A second advanced from Suwaifat to Bashkwy.

The surprise gave the regime forces the initial advantage in all three villages. However, Baskhwy and Rityan were reclaimed by the rebels. A local citizen journalist supported opposition claims that the Syrian troops and militia “suffered heavy personnel losses; dozens are dead”.

Rebels fighting Syrian forces near Rityan

Regime warplanes pounded the area with vacuum missiles in an attempt to bolster the ground assault.

The pro-opposition Sham News Network echoed other reports that residents of the three villages had fled as the Syrian militia “slaughtered civilians”.


(Map: Syria Direct)

Opposition media also confirmed reports of fighting near Handarat, closer to the main highway to Aleppo.

Regime Launches New Offensive to Cut Off Rebels in Aleppo; Opposition Claims Many Regime Casualties

Syrian forces have launched another effort to cut off rebels in the east of Aleppo city, and there are also significant battles in the city and to the south on Tuesday.

The regime troops attacked north of Aleppo overnight, seeking to cut off a main route. Assaults are reported on the villages of Bashqwy, Hardantain, and Rityan (see map).

Rebels — including the Sham Front, the Free Syrian Army, and Jabhat al-Nusra — claim that they have been able to reclaim Bashqwy and Rityan and have killed at least 40 regime troops — some activists are putting the toll at more than 70. They say Hazara Afghan and Iranian fighters are prominent among the Syrian forces.

Jabhat al-Nusra, which has been fighting the regime forces near al-Mallah Farms, put the death toll at more than 50. They have supported the assertion with photographs.

Claims are circulating that the regime militias killed women and carried out executions in Rityan.

Since the autumn, the regime has tried to isolate rebels in Aleppo, divided since July 2012. Syrian forces threatened to take the key town of Handarat (see map), but were eventually pushed back by opposition forces.

The Syrian military’s latest attacks are also hoping to relieve rebel pressure on the regime enclaves of Nubl and al-Zahraa, which have been besieged for months by the opposition.

Meanwhile, in Aleppo city, rebels have been attacking regime forces in al-Rashidin (see map) with tank shelling and a ground assault:

The Sham Front is claiming significant regime losses, providing a graphic photo and videos:

Rebel media also say there are violent clashes today south of Aleppo, on the Aziza front.

Video: Regime Bomb Collapses “Teacher’s Tower” in Jobar Section of Damascus

The Assad regime may have eased bombing near Damascus, but it was able on Monday to carry out a dramatic attack in rebel-held Jobar in the northeast of the capital.

An underground bomb collapsed the “Teacher’s Tower”, which had been attacked for months.

Apart from the possibility of a few rebel “watchers”, the already-damaged building was empty.

The tower in November 2012, when it was still occupied by residents:

Bombardment of the tower in February 2013:

Despite the regime siege, bombing, and ground attacks for more than two years, rebels have continued to hold out in Jobar, which is not far from the regime’s key position at al-Abbasyeen Square: