PHOTO: Aftermath of airstrike on al-Mutanabbi section of Idlib on Tuesday (Ammar Abdullah/Reuters)
- General Leading “Train-and-Equip” Mission Leaves Post
- Islamic State Destroys Homes of Rebel Leaders in Deir Ez Zor Province
- Picture: Kafranbel Protesters Express Solidarity with Bombing Victims
- Report: Damascus Governor Killed in Ambush
- Information Minister Denies Top Military Commanders Fled Aleppo
UPDATE 1300 GMT: Local sources say the Syrian military has taken heavy losses north of Ariha, near the road to the under-attack regime camp at Mastoumeh and opposition-held Idlib.
The sources claim 50 to 60 Syrian troops have been killed and many wounded. At least three T-55 and T-72 tanks and other armored vehicles were destroyed. The surviving regime forces withdrew to positions in and near Ariha, pursued by rebels who inflicted more casualties.
Opposition activists also claim that a group of Hezbollah fighters was captured.
State media and a local activist had claimed the capture of Kafr Najd, and Nahlaya villages northwest of Ariha, but other pro-opposition activists say the attack was repelled, contributing to the heavy losses suffered by Syrian forces.
Claimed footage from pro-Assad media of Syria forces inside Kafr Najd:
The Assad regime tried to counter-attack on Tuesday near Idlib, the provincial capital in northwest Syria lost to rebels last month, to relieve pressure on a military camp south of the city. Bombing killed dozens of people across the province.
Regime forces are trying to defend the Mastoumeh military camp, under attack since the rebel victory in Idlib on March 28, by breaking out of a corridor between Mastoumeh and Latakia Province to the west. Pro-Assad outlets proclaim “fresh gains”, with the claim that Syrian elite troops are in the industrial area of Idlib and that they took the village of Kafr Najd, further to the south of Mastoumeh near Ariha.
However, local sources say the counter-attacks failed to break out of the corridor, failing to capture hilltops and the town of Qameenas, overlooking the highway between Idlib city and Mastoumeh. The Jaish al-Fatah rebel coalition destroyed a military convoy trying to reinforce Mastoumeh camp, according to a local journalist.
Even as it declares regime gains, the pro-Assad Al-Masdar News concedes the failure to take Qameenas or to break out of the Qarmeed Camp — also known as the “Brick Factory” — in the industrial area to the east of Mastoumeh.
Meanwhile, the Syrian air force continues its retaliatory assault on Idlib. The Local Coordinating Committees report that 31 people were killed in Idlib Province on Tuesday. Activists say at least 11 died in a strike on a market in Idlib city and at least 12 in an attack on a shelter in nearby Saraqeb.
Aftermath of the bombing in Saraqeb:
General Leading “Train-and-Equip” Mission Leaves Post
Major General Michael Nagata, the US commander leading the train-and-equip mission for Syrian rebels, is leaving his post.
Nagata, who headed the program since it was funded with $500 million last autumn, will depart his job in May or June, the Pentagon said. There is no word on his replacement, although the program will continue under the Special Operations Command Central.
The General could keep a role in the mission by maintaining his secondary title as Syria Director for the Combined Joint Inter-Agency Task Force, which administers the program on the ground.
The train-and-equip mission has been plagued by bureaucratic delays and questions over its objectives. The first vetted Syrian rebels were supposed to begin training in Qatar and Turkey in late March, but there is still no sign of the launch of the program.
The US says the mission is to develop a fighting force against the Islamic State, but rebels see the primary goal as the effort to remove the Assad regime from power.
Islamic State Destroys Homes of Rebel Leaders in Deir Ez Zor Province
The Islamic State demolished the former houses of three rebel leaders on Tuesday in a town under its control in Deir ez-Zor Province in eastern Syria, according to local activists.
“The reason for the demolitions is to broadcast horror, fear and intimidation amongst the sons of the town [of Shahil], many of whom are leaders with Jabhat a-Nusra or fighting in the ranks of [the local rebel group] Asoud a-Sharqiya against IS,” Mohammed Hasan, a Deir e-Zor-based activist, told Syria Direct.
The exact locations of the three leaders are unknown, but they are probably outside the province, largely controlled by the Islamic State.
The houses were razed, even though they were still occupied by other residents in Shahil. They belonged to Salim Ayadat, the leader of an Free Syrian Army-affiliated brigade; to Dr. Yusef Al-Hajar, a Jahbat al-Nusra leader; and to a Jaish al-Islam leader, said Hasan.
Picture: Kafranbel Protesters Express Solidarity with Bombing Victims
The protesters of Kafranbel in Idlib Province express solidarity with the victims of bombing in Idlib, Aleppo, and elsewhere, calling for the world to act against the brutality of the Assad regime:
The figures to the left of the banner represent the Islamic State’s beheading of hostages, while those to the right are modeled on the victims beheaded this week in regime bombing of an Aleppo elementary school.
Report: Damascus Governor Killed in Ambush
Pro-opposition Orient News reports that Hussein Makhlouf, the Governor of Damascus Province, has been killed by a rebel ambush in the Qalamoun region:
Information Minister Denies Top Military Commanders Fled Aleppo
Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi has denied claims that senior military commanders have fled Aleppo, amid an escalation of pressure from rebels.
Rumors circulated on social media on Monday that the commanders had left their troops and escaped the city, divided since July 2012, to the west.
Al-Zoubi said “officially” on a pro-regime TV channel that “all the government institutions, hospitals, schools and universities in Aleppo are operating as usual” and “all the administrative, military, and security officials are on duty there”.
In the past two weeks, rebels have stepped up attacks on regime districts in the divided city, including assaults on military checkpoints. On Monday, they completed a symbolic victory with the destruction of the Air Force intelligence building in the al-Zahraa district in northwest Aleppo.