The weekend’s news that 70 people had been killed by the Islamic State in a village in northeastern Hama Province raised another question: how many regime forces were slain by the jihadists in battles before the mass killing in Sheikh Helal?

Asked about the latest significant news, a source inside Syria said simply on Monday, “Salamiyah”, referring to the district in Hama Province where both the fighting and the attack on Sheikh Helal occurred.

The source said that reports, circulating last week, of 74 soldiers in Salamiyah were correct with photographs of some of the slain troops posted on social media sites.

Some of those slain in Sheikh Helal may also have been pro-Assad militia rather than civilians.

Public anger over the deaths has been stoked by the failure of official media to mention the events. A Damascus-based website wrote on Monday about the funerals for those in Sheikh Helal, with coffins carried by military personnel and civilians, and noted discontent over the Assad regime’s response.

A jihadist fighter promised more bad news, telling Reuters, “The ultimate goal is liberate Salamiya and Hama but it will not happen before Islamic State is 100 percent ready.”

Reports: Rebels Begin Three-Pronged Offensive on Idlib City

Reports are circulating that rebels have finally begun an assault on Idlib city in northwest Syria.

The reports indicate the opposition is attacking from the north, east, and west. Pro-opposition activists say the attack started with three vehicle-borne suicide bombings.

Smoke rising above the suicide bombing of a regime checkpoint:

The rebel faction Ahrar al-Sham claims that territory to the east of the city has already been seized.

Ahrar al-Sham fighters mobilizing for the battle:


The regime has held Idlib city throughout the four-year conflict, but rebels control most of Idlib Province.

The city had a pre-war population of about 165,000.

Druze Leader Jumblatt Warns Community Against “Assad Regime’s Attempt to Drag It Into Futile Wars”

As fighting between rebels and Syrian forces nears Sweida Province in southern Syria (see below), home to many of the country’s Druze community, Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt has issued a warning about the regime’s attempts to take advantage of them by dragging the community into “futile wars with other local factions”.

In a weekly editorial, Jumblatt accused the Assad regime of constantly trying to exacerbate conflicts: “Since the outbreak of the conflict, events have proved beyond a shadow of doubt that the Syrian regime hasn’t distinguished between sects while carrying out its terrorist acts.”

Jumblat called on Druze in Swaida to consolidate ties with the neighboring Daraa Province, where rebels have made steady advances this year.

The Druze, who follow a distinct monotheistic religion, are found primarily in Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan.

Rebel Faction Jaish al-Islam: We Are the Greatest Threat to the Islamic State

Captain Islam Alloush, the spokesman for the leading rebel faction Jaish al-Islam, tells Syria Direct, “We represent the biggest threat to IS in two ways”:

The first is militarily, as we have prevented IS from expanding into the Damascus countryside, ousted them from East Ghouta [east of Damascus] and attacked them in the Qalamoun mountains. In the past few days we were able to free east Qalamoun from their control, so IS has resorted to treachery and kidnapping.

The second way is religious, as we represent true Islam, which is far removed from the fanaticism and takfir [of the Islamic State.

Jaish al-Islam is prominent near Damascus as a challenge to both the Assad regime and the jihadists; however, it is expanding operations against the Islamic State in northern Syria with a new camp, “Ali bin Abi Talib”, training fighters.

Opposition and Regime Put Out Conflicting Accounts over Battle for Busra al-Sham in South

The opposition and regime are putting out competing accounts over the state of the battle for Busra al-Sham in southern Syria.

Rebels launched an offensive last week, hoping to open access to Sweida Province and to another border entry point into Jordan. They claim that they have inflicted heavy losses on regime defenders, reportedly including the Syrian Army’s 5th and 9th Armored Divisions and National Defense Forces militia.

State news agency SANA counters with a “military source” claiming that more than 50 rebels, including two field commanders, have been killed in and near the city.

At the same time, the site implicitly acknowledges that rebels are inside Busra al-Sham, as it asserts the demolition of a missile launching pad and armored vehicle in the west of the city and of fighting around the archaeological citadel.

A report from Al Jazeera Arabic inside the city: