PHOTO: Rebels in front of Zayzoun thermal plant in Idlib Province earlier this week
- Video: Jabhat al-Nusra Shows Off Abducted US-Trained Rebels
- Regime and Kurds: Last Islamic State Units Forced Out of Hasakah
- Local Coordination Committees Break With Externally-Based Syrian National Coalition
State media and pro-Assad outlets are proclaiming a limited but notable reversal in Syria’s northwest, with Syrian troops taking towns and a power plant after months of rebel advances.
Earlier this week, rebels carried out another stage in their move this spring and summer through Idlib Province and into neighboring Hama Province. They captured Frikka, the last town held by the regime in Idlib, and nearby areas including Zayzoun Dam and thermal power plant. The opposition also moved farther south into the al-Ghab Plain in Hama, taking more territory in the northeastern section.
However, the Syrian military countered with waves of airstrikes over the following days — more than 350, according to one activist on social media — and put elite forces into the area. By Friday, it was claiming the recapture of towns in the al-Ghab Plain such as Khirbet al-Naqous, with fighting in Mansoura. Yesterday, State media promoted a symbolic victory, with the re-entry into Idlib Province through the defeat of rebels at the Zayzoun thermal power plant.
— IUCA (@IUCAnalysts) August 1, 2015
The situation appears to be more complex than those headlines. The Zayzoun plant has not been recaptured as much as destroyed, for use and occupation by any side, and the counter-attack in al-Ghab has only checked the rebel threat to move through the plain. Most importantly, the opposition still holds Frikka, as well as the cities and towns — including the provincial capital Idlib — occupied this spring.
Meanwhile, there may be an unexpected silver lining from the Syrian military’s attempt to retrieve some territory and credibility. With aerial operations devoted to the Idlib-Hama corridor — and with the apparent destruction of the regime’s main facility for making barrel bombs at Safira, near Aleppo city — attacks have fallen away elsewhere. Activists noted yesterday that, for the first time in many months, Aleppo city had been spared aerial bombardment for two days in a row.
Video: Jabhat al-Nusra Shows Off Abducted US-Trained Rebels
The Islamist faction Jabhat al-Nusra appears to have shown off some of the US-trained rebels whom it captured this week in northern Syria.
In the video, uploaded on Saturday, five men are escorted by two fighters, one of them hooded. The captives walk through a field in a straight line, with their hands behind their heads.
One detainee says he was recruited by the US, through intermediaries, to receive training in Turkey for a month and a half. He explains that the rebels were were each given an M16 assault rifle and some cash to “fight Al-Nusra” in Syria.
A hooded al-Nusra fighters says the faction has “cut the hand of the West and the Americans in Syria”, accusing the kidnapped men of helping US-led airstrikes against al-Nusra positions.
The commander and deputy commander and up to 18 members of the Free Syrian Army’s 30th Division, which included the 54 US-trained rebels, were seized on Wednesday by Jabhat al-Nusra.
Two days later, the Islamist faction attacked the 30th Division’s headquarters, killing five fighters, wounding 18, and capturing others. The US responded with airstrikes in the area near Azaz, in Aleppo Province close to the Turkish border.
Regime and Kurds: Last Islamic State Units Forced Out of Hasakah
Both State media and the Kurdish militia YPG say the last pocket of Hasakah, the city in eastern Syria invaded by the Islamic State in late June, has been cleared of militants.
“Our units were able to fully liberate the city of Hasakah from Daesh’s mercenaries and were able to evict them from the city,” the YPG said in a statement.
The militia claimed that 386 Islamic State fighters were killed and six tanks seized, while 21 members of the YPG and the Kurdish women’s militia YPJ were slain.
State news agency SANA said the Syrian military “established full control…after eliminating the last gatherings of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria ‘ISIS’ terrorists”.
The Islamic State moved into southern and eastern parts of Hasakah, as well as taking key positions near the city, until the YPG came to the assistance of the regime forces.
Hasakah, located near the Turkish and Iraqi forces, is a mixed Kurdish, Arab, and Assyrian city.
Local Coordination Committees Break With Externally-Based Syrian National Coalition
The Local Coordination Committees, a leading activist group inside Syria, announced on Saturday that it is breaking with the opposition in exile.
In a letter to the Syrian National Coalition, the LCC denounced the SNC’s transformation into “blocs linked to foreign forces”:
We wish to inform you that the LCC has decided to withdraw officially from the coalition.
We had hoped that this political grouping, of which we are one of the founders, would realize the aspirations of the people and the principles of the revolution for which it has paid an unimaginable price.
Unfortunately, we have on several occasions noted its inability to undertake this mission.
The LCC’s network is one of the most reliable for news on developments inside Syria — for example, the extent of the Assad regime’s chemical weapons attacks in August 2013 — and on casualties from the conflict.
The LCC denounced what the SNC’s “non-institutional” working methods and the creation of “blocs related to factors and external forces, which was the main reason for the outbreak of internal conflict over the personal ambitions of some members of the Coalition”.
It concluded, “We are ashamed… to see what has happened to the Coalition.”