By Peter Clifford © (http://www.petercliffordonline.com/syria-news-3)
On Wednesday, Opposition forces led by Jihadist brigades attacked a police station in Adra Al-Ummaliya on the north-eastern outskirts of Damacus, eventually capturing the building.
Refugees in the Snow
Since then, Opposition fighters are reported to have taken control of the main highway intersection in Adra known as “Baghdad Bridge”, an airforce security branch and the town of Hafir Tahta west of Adra and close to the Government missile base of Brigade 155.
An Assad regime report claimed that the Jihadists had “massacred” 14 Alawites, Druze and Christians in Adra, though the picture put out with the report is of people murdered by pro-Assad militia in Homs, rendering the report highly suspicious. Blaming the “Jihadists” for everything bad is probably an new Assad regime pastime.
At the same time there is a reliable report that Colonel Jihad Makhlouf, a cousin of President Assad on his mother’s side of the family, was killed on Thursday in the fighting around Adra.
The Syrian Government has called on every “man, woman and child” to take up arms to protect the Adra area. Apparently the Adra area is home to significant fuel depots, both military and for domestic heating. Loss of these under current circumstances, both economic and weather related, would be a severe blow.
Iraqi SWAT Teams Seen in Damascus
Over the last 2 weeks, a number of photographs have appeared of what appear to be SWAT teams of specially trained soldiers (presumably originally trained by the Americans) from Iraq.
That they are being deployed in Iraq without the Shia-controlled Iraqi Government’s permission is inconceivable, despite the Iraqis saying officially they are “neutral” in the conflict.
In the Qalamoun area, there is an unconfirmed report that pro-Assad fighters have murdered another 14 people in Ameen Street, their bodies being burnt after the killings.
Although the battlefields are largely frozen as the bad weather takes over, such as this one in Hama, HERE: most of the reported action is coming currently from Deir El-Zour.
North-west of Deir El-Zour, Opposition fighters have stormed an Army base and storage area south of Ayyash village, HERE: and attacked several other checkpoints, weapons storage and Army bases on the western edge of the regional capital.
In Deraa province to the south, which is also now covered with snow, the Opposition took over a regime barrier near Inkhill, HERE:
AFTER ASSAD, COLD AND SNOW NOW THE BIGGEST THREAT TO THE SURVIVAL OF THE SYRIAN POPULATION:
The 2nd biggest enemy of those trying to survive the conflict in Syria is now the cold and snow. 4 children are reported frozen to death by Thursday and there are also unconfirmed reports that 13 detainees have died of cold and hunger in the besieged Aleppo Central Prison.
More Snow Covered Tents
Latest reports from Aleppo this morning, Friday, say that the regime is releasing 366 prisoners, mainly convicted criminals, from the Central Prison for “humanitarian reasons”.
The first batch of 10 were released, accompanied by the Syrian Red Crescent, yesterday and supplies of medicine, food and supplies are being taken in.
According to Opposition activists, conditions inside the prison, which has been under Opposition siege for months, are “horrific” and the real reason prisoners are being released is because of the outbreak of disease, including tuberculosis.
Increasingly the very young and very old are at risk from the severe weather conditions. One child that died from the extreme cold was just 3 days old.
This distressing video shows a young child that died of cold in Al Rastan in Homs province, his little arms stuck in the air, HERE:
Killed by the Cold
Snow usually makes run-down areas look better than they normally are – but not in Homs, HERE:
More has emerged over the claims that the Islamist Front “took over by force” the Free Syrian Army (FSA) warehouses and the Bab Al-Hawa crossing to Turkey in Idlib province.
It appears that the FSA warehouses were attacked by armed gunmen (presumed to be Jihadists by many) and the FSA called on the more moderate Islamic Front brigades for reinforcements.
By the time the Islamic Front arrived, one warehouse had been emptied completely and another had lost around 50% of its contents. The story continues that at this point the weakened FSA, not having the manpower to protect the warehouses or the border crossing, “handed over the keys” to the Islamic Front.
At one point there were reports that the head of the western-backed Supreme Military Council, General Salim Idriss had fled Syria/Turkey and flown to Qatar, but this has been denied. The FSA says he was in Turkey all the time and in fact had a meeting with FSA commanders and the Islamic Front in southern Turkey on Tuesday.
As a result of the Islamist Front takeover, both the US and now the UK have suspended deliveries to the FSA of non-lethal equipment such as field rations, night vision goggles, communications equipment and flak jackets.
SHIFT IN WESTERN THINKING OVER ASSAD DOES NOT BODE WELL FOR OPPOSITION SUPPORT:
However, there does appear to be a shift in Western thinking over Syria, a former head of the CIA even suggesting that “Assad is preferable” to seeing Syria completely falling apart. An Israeli general has made a similar suggestion. The BBC has an article on this, HERE:
The West also seems keen to see an Assad victory in Qalamoun as the only way of getting some chemical weapons out of sites around Damascus to a port in Latakia where they can be loaded and trans-shipped to an American vessel at sea, is to secure the Damascus – Homs highway.
Unless this done, the live chemicals could be very vulnerable to attack, from roadside bombs for example, before they have left the country. All of the above is not good news for the Syrian Opposition which seems to lose more clout, unity, power and authority by the day.
3 Days Old – Also Killed by the Cold
At this point it is difficult to know who exactly they are representing, especially if they go to the talks in Geneva (or now Montreux, as hotels in Geneva will be full with people attending another conference). You can read more on changing attitudes, HERE:
The UN investigation team who looked into reports of chemical weapons attacks in Syria have concluded that such weapons have been used in 5 of the 7 attacks they investigated, and 4 of those events involved the deadly nerve gas Sarin.
“The report noted that in several cases the victims included soldiers and civilians, though it was not always possible to establish with certainty any direct links between the attacks, the victims and the alleged sites of the incidents”.
The UN investigating team found “clear and convincing” evidence that Sarin was used on a large scale against civilians in the Opposition-held Damascus suburbs of Ghouta on August 21st and that Sarin “had likely also been used on a small-scale in the districts of Jobar, Saraqeb and Ashrafiat Sahnaya”.
However, the inquiry was only looking at whether chemical weapons were used, not who used them. Both the Syrian Government and the Opposition have accused each other of using chemical weapons, and both have denied it. You can read more, HERE: and The UN report in its entirety is HERE:
ASSAD REGIME REVELS IN RELEASE OF NEW FILM DEPICTING SAUDI MONARCH AS BLOODTHIRSTY WOMANISER:
More than 30 countries, including Iran and Saudi Arabia have been invited to the Geneva 2 “peace conference” scheduled for January 14th 2014 in Switzerland, though the Islamist Front, now the largest Syrian Opposition group of fighters, has labelled anyone attending as “traitors”.
Syria has kept up its campaign against Saudi Arabia, who it now sees as the main sponsor of “terrorists” and has made great play of the release of a new film in Syria, called “King of the Sands”, made by a Syrian director and Assad supporter, Najdat Anzour.
The film depicts events leading up to the creation of Saudi Arabia in 1932 and features the founder of the Saud dynasty, King Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, as a bloodthirsty monarch cutting off hands, stoning couples to death for pre-marital sex and at the same time having numerous wives and a predeliction for sex with underage women.
The Saudi monarchy is apparently outraged and has called for the film to be banned. It was launched with great fanfare in the Damascus Opera House this week in the presence of a “VIP guest list” and will appear in other Syrian film theatres following a heavy state-sponsored advertising campaign. You can read more, HERE:
Lastly, I was sent a report of how hard life is for Syrian refugees trying to survive by making a modest living in Lebanon. Living in very basic conditions, working long hours for minimal pay they are easily exploited.
You can read the report by Luna Al Abdallah (slightly edited for English by me) telling the story of Mustafa Abo Al-Abdul Kader, just one Syrian refugee of 800,000 in Lebanon, working on the pleasure boats in Beirut’s harbour,HERE:
EDITOR: On many occasions I have given the good people of Kanfranbel in Idlib province the last word on this blog, and therefore could not resist their snowy version of the upcoming “Geneva 2 conference”. Note the varying head gear!
Kanfranbel’s Take on Geneva 2