PHOTO: A fighter with journalist Hadi al-Abdallah in front of a burning regime tank on Sunday
- Journalist and Rights Activist Darwish Freed After More than 3 Years
- Video: Homs Province Attacked by 90 Barrel Bombs in July
- Jabhat al-Nusra Confirms Handover of Territory to Rebels in Northern Aleppo Province
- Photo and Video: Rebels Attack Regime Enclave in Idlib Province With Tunnel Bomb
- Islamic State Suicide Bomb Kills More than 50 Rebels in Aleppo Province
- Saving Assad? Lavrov Calls on US to Cooperate with Regime Against Islamic State
The latest rebel advance, in Hama Province on Sunday, has raised questions about whether President Assad’s forces can maintain a defense line in the west of Syria.
The rebel coalition Jaish al-Fateh followed up its victories throughout Idlib Province in northwest Province with a sweep through the al-Ghab Plain to the south. Regime troops, who had mounted a brief counter-offensive last week, retreated from towns such as Ziyarah. They appear to be moving towards the bases at Joureen, important both for bombardment of Idlib and Hama Provinces and as a shield for the Assad heartland of Latakia Province on the Mediterranean.
State news agency SANA does not acknowledge the retreat but implicitly admits the loss of the area as it writes, “The Syrian Arab Army’s Air Force launched airstrikes on terrorists’ dens in al-Ziyara, Zaizoun and al-Zyadia in the northwest countryside of Hama province, killing many terrorists and destroying of their vehicles, weapons, and ammunition.”
Since March, rebels have taken the provincial capital of Idlib; the city of Jisr al-Shughour on the Turkish border; and the town of Ariha and the last functioning regime bases in Idlib Province. Last month, they finally captured the town of Frikka, the last regime position in the province, located on the key east-west highway between Aleppo and Latakia.
If Joureen falls, rebels could move into Latakia Province, advancing on cities such as Latakia and Tartous. Both have been considered essential to the President’s hold on power.
Over the weekend, the regime was also unsettled in Latakia city by protests over the alleged killed of a military officer by a cousin of President Assad. While pro-Assad outlets are emphasizing that the demonstrations are solely a call for justice, some observers believe the public display also shows war fatigue.
Alternatively, rebels can continue south towards Hama, the fourth-largest city in Syria and the site of an uprising in 1982 which was put down — with the loss of tens of thousands of lives — by President Assad’s father Hafez.
Following the loss of Idlib Province this spring, regime officials — reportedly with the involvement of Iranian commanders — have discussed the holding of a defense line from Latakia through Homs, further south of Hama, to Damascus and the Lebanese border.
That line would already give up Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, to rebels. Now the rebels are challenging even that de facto barrier for the partition of Syria.
Journalist and Rights Activist Darwish Freed After More than 3 Years
Mazen Darwish, a leading journalist and rights activist, has been released after more than three years in prison, his wife said on Monday.
“He has been freed ahead of a final verdict in his case on August 31,” Yara Bader told the AFP news agency.
Darwish and two colleagues from the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression, Hussein Ghreir and Hani al-Zaitani, were among 16 activists and bloggers seized in February 2012. They were accused of “promoting terrorist acts” and moved between prisons several times, with court dates in regularly postponed.
Ghreir and Zaitani were freed last month in an amnesty for the religious celebration of Eid al-Fitr. Bader said Darwish was supposed to benefit from the same amnesty, but his release was delayed.
Darwish has received multiple awards in acknowledgement of his work, including UNESCO’s annual press freedom prize in May.
Bader accepted the award on his behalf, saying it was dedicated to his children in the hope they would grow up in a free Syria:
We need a time to learn how to listen to people who have different opinions. Mazen has already forgiven those who tortured him almost to death.
Video: Homs Province Attacked by 90 Barrel Bombs in July
Jabhat al-Nusra Confirms Handover of Territory to Rebels in Northern Aleppo Province
The Islamist faction Jabhat al-Nusra has confirmed last week’s reports and yesterday’s video that they are handing over territory in northern Aleppo Province, along the Turkish border, to rebels.
Rebels have said that the al-Nusra units will be moved near Aleppo city, in preparation for a possible offensive. They also hope that the redeployment prevents further US airstrikes, following American attacks on al-Nusra since last September.
In its statement, al-Nusra referred to Turkey’s plan for “safe zones” with “air and artillery cover for some Syrian opposition groups who will participate in this coalition as ground forces”:
We as Nusra do not find it religiously permissible to join this coalition. The battle for buffer zone is not a strategic decision out of free will by fighting groups [in Syria]….[The] first aim is Turkey’s national security.
Photo and Video: Rebels Attack Regime Enclave in Idlib Province With Tunnel Bomb
The rebel faction Ahrar al-Sham has attacked Fu’ah, one of the regime’s two enclaves north of Idlib city, with a tunnel bomb this morning:
Rebels have surrounded Fu’ah and nearby Kafraya for months. With the fall of the rest of Idlib Province to the opposition this spring, the rebel coalition Jaish al-Fateh has considered a ground assault to take the fortified villages. Attacks have also been stepped up in response to the Hezbollah-regime six-week offensive against Zabadani, northwest of Damascus.
Accompanying rebels, journalist Hadi al-Abdallah watches the explosion:
Videos of the attack and the preparations for it:
Islamic State Suicide Bomb Kills More than 50 Rebels in Aleppo Province
An Islamic State suicide bomb has reportedly killed more than 50 rebels in northern Aleppo Province.
Among the dead on Sunday were 12 fighters from the Fursan al-Haq Brigade. Other casualties were from the 101st Division and the 1st Regiment.
The attack was part of an Islamic State fightback on the Aleppo frontline which took most of the village of Um Hosh, east of the town of Mare’, this weekend. The militants captured a rebel commander in the battles.
Rebels had taken Um Hosh from the Islamic State at the start of June.
Saving Assad? Lavrov Calls on US to Cooperate with Regime Against Islamic State
With President Assad in an increasingly precariously position, his ally Russia has called on the US to cooperate with the regime against the Islamic State.
Speaking to State TV, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov referred to his meetings with US Secretary of State John Kerry last week in Qatar and Malaysia, which reportedly including discussion of talks between Syria and Saudi Arabia, a leading backer of Syrian rebels.
Lavrov indicated that the Russians had not been able to move the US to an acceptable position:
Our American partners and some countries in the region persistently refuse to recognise Assad as a partner, which is rather strange.
Assad was a fully legitimate partner in destroying chemical arms but somehow he is not in fighting terrorism.
Lavrov is scheduled to meet Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, who was in the Qatar talks last week, in Moscow on Tuesday.