PHOTO: Regime’s elite Tiger Forces point to a battle helicopter near gas fields in central Syria
- As Currency Sinks, Central Bank Blames “Fierce Media Campaign”
- Al Qa’eda’s Zawahiri Calls for Unity of Jihadists, Criticizes ISIS
- Reports: Tentative Deal to End Hama Prison Siege
In their second notable victory in a week, the Islamic State captured more gas fields in central Syria from the Assad regime on Sunday.
On Wednesday, ISIS took the al-Sha’ar gas fields near Palmyra in eastern Homs Province, capturing large amounts of regime armored vehicles, rocket launchers, other weapons, and ammunition. The Syrian army’s counter-attack was repelled on Friday night, and the jihadists took the nearby Jabal al-Sha’ar mountains.
Yesterday the Islamic State moved into the al-Mahr gas fields in northeastern Homs. It held the position despite reported Syrian and Russian airstrikes and the claimed presence of the regime’s elite Tiger Forces.
The Assad regime has lost most of its oil and gas fields during the Syrian conflict, many of them to ISIS. However, pro-Assad forces had retaken territory from the Islamic State this spring, notably the Roman-era city of Palmyra in late March.
The latest ISIS fightback came as the regime and Russia pursued a high-profile PR offensive to celebrate control of Palmyra, including a concert by a Russian orchestra.
As Currency Sinks, Central Bank Blames “Fierce Media Campaign”
As the Syrian currency continues to plummet, the Central Bank has blamed a “fierce media campaign” against the regime, rather than the conflict and economic problems.
The Syrian Pound — having already lost 90% of its value since the start of the uprising — has collapsed to 625:1 vs. the US dollar on the unofficial market, compared to 500:1 in March and 570:1 last week.
The Central Bank insisted that Syrians “will contribute positively” to saving the situation by relying on domestic goods, refraining from purchases of imports, and reducing smuggling.
The Bank added that it will continue to intervene in the foreign currency exchange market on a daily basis, meeting needs to finance essential imports.
Syria’s GDP has contracted about 15% each year since 2011. Inflation is rampant, and the regime is dependent on outside aid, especially from Russia and Iran.
Al Qa’eda’s Zawahiri Calls for Unity of Jihadists, Criticizes ISIS
Al-Qa’eda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has called for unity of jihadists in Syria, while criticizing the Islamic State.
In an audio posted online on Sunday, al-Zawahiri said, “We have to want the unity of the Mujahideen in Sham [Syria] so it will be liberated from the Russians and Western Crusaders. My brothers…the matter of unity is a matter of life or death for you.”
He described ISIS — who broke from al-Qa’eda in spring 2014 over control of operations in Syria — as “extremists and renegades” whose followers would eventually disavow their beliefs and methods.
Reports: Tentative Deal to End Hama Prison Siege
A tentative deal has been reached to end a siege of more than 1,200 detainees in Hama Prison, according to rights groups and activists.
The deal will end a protest which started last Monday, when inmates took control after an attempt to move four of them to Sednaya Prison in Damascus for execution.
In return, “the regime has agreed to most of our demands to release those political detainees held without charges,” said a rights activist in touch with two inmates.
More than 800 men in Hama Prison are held as “terrorists”, detained without a legal process.
Power and water will be restored to the prison, and food and medicines will again be allowed into the complex. Police have agreed not to re-enter until Saturday.
Another rights activist said the deal was reached after tribal figures intervened with the regime, who gave assurances of releases if the uprising was ended.
Since last Monday’s takeover, security forces have besieged the prison, bringing in reinforcements and cutting off electricity and water. However, three attempts to retake the facility have failed, despite the use of tear gas.
Negotiations did free 46 detainees. Claims circulated last night that another 26 men are to be freed immediately.