Syrian government troops seized at least three communities along the border with Lebanon, including an ancient Christian hamlet, north of Damascus on Monday, The Associated Press quoted state media and activists as saying.
The capture of Sarkha, Maaloula and Jibbeh comes just a day after President Bashar Assad said the tide was turning in favor of his regime against rebels since the beginning of the uprising in March 2011.
The AP quoted Syria’s state news agency as saying forces loyal to Assad captured Sarkha early Monday before also sweeping rebels out of Maaloula, an ancient Christian village set into the rocky hills.
Hours later, a Syrian military commander said troops also seized the nearby town of Jibbehm, the agency added.
The seizure of the border communities, the fastest series of army successes against rebels in the Qalamoun since the regime launched an offensive in the area in November, came a day after government troops backed by Hezbollah fighters captured the nearby town of Rankous, AP said.
The government gains have allowed the military, backed by Hezbollah, to squeeze a key rebel supply route that has long funneled weapons, supplies and fighters to rural Damascus, the news agency said.
By Monday afternoon, only the towns of Arsal al-Ward, Hawsh Arab and Jbaadin remained in rebel hands, said the commander who spoke to an Associated Press reporter on a government-led tour of the area. He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
A pro-rebel activist in Qalamoun who uses the name Amer confirmed to AP that the military had taken the communities, but said Jibbeh and Jbaadin had never been in opposition hands. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed that both communities had never been under rebel control.
Instead, it appeared that pro-government fighters had pre-emptively seized the towns to ensure rebels would not take them.
Now in its fourth year, Syria’s civil war has killed more than 150,000 people and taken on deep sectarian overtones.
Assad said Sunday that the civil war was turning in the government’s favor, state television reported.
“This is a turning point in the crisis, both militarily in terms of the army’s achievements in the war against terror, and socially in terms of national reconciliation processes and growing awareness of the truth behind the [attacks] targeting the country,” the television quoted Assad as saying.
(Source / 14.04.2014)
By Peter Clifford © (http://www.petercliffordonline.com/syria-news-3)
Over the weekend the Opposition have continued to push into south-western Aleppo, strengthening their positions by taking streets and apartment blocks in Al-Sherfee.
Opposition Capture Bakery Checkpoint in SW Aleppo
The Opposition are now well inside the regime district of Zahra, which is relatively unscathed compared with the barrel-bombed eastern half of Aleppo city, HERE:
The fighters have since taken several more buildings in Zahra neighbourhood and are attacking the Al-Sherfee area to be in a better position to lay siege to the Artillery Academy, HERE:
An Opposition tank-howitzer also targeted the Sadkop (military) base in Ramouseh,HERE: which unconfirmed reports say has been captured this morning, Monday.
Another tour of Zahra, with minimal damage, can be seen, HERE:
On Sunday, a regime reinforcement convoy on the highway at Sheikh Said, just east of Ramouseh, was attacked, but other Syrian Army and National Defence Force troops did get through to the Air Force Intelligence building which is the Opposition’s main target.
There has additionally been a major power cut to electricity supplies which may herald an even larger Opposition attack and for the first time civilians from western Aleppo have started to move to the Opposition-held east.
There are reports of a severe bread shortage in regime-held western Aleppo, possibly exacerbated by Opposition control of the bakery checkpoint in Ramouseh where the Syrian Army were found to have been using full flour bags for barricades.
The Opposition also brought down this small drone near the Artillery Academy, HERE:
ASSAD REGIME ONCE AGAIN ACCUSED OF DROPPING POISONOUS GAS ON CIVILIANS IN HAMA PROVINCE:
At Kafr Zita in Hama province on Friday, a series of barrel bombs were dropped indiscriminately by Assad’s helicopters on the town, releasing clouds of smoke and debris with a distinctive yellow tinge, HERE:
Cylinders Containing Chlorine Gas Dropped on Kafr Zita
Activists said the barrel-bombs contained cylinders with Chinese markings and the designa-
Chinese Manufacturer’s Mark and Chlorine Designation
tion CL2, or chlorine gas, HERE: Two people were reported to have died and up to 100 were injured.
Unusually, the Assad regime admitted a chlorine attack on Kafr Zita (before anyone else had said which gas was involved) but blamed it on the Al-Nusra Front (ANF).
EDITOR: As far as we know the ANF do not have any operational helicopters – especially ones which pass across Syria undetected by Assad’s Air Force.
The regime is desperate to regain the area as it commands their supply route from Hama to Aleppo. Al Jazeera has a video report, HERE:
In Deraa province, Opposition fighters have destroyed a regime tank inside the Brigade 52 base near Al-Harak,HERE:
They also hit a regime convoy loaded with munitions, with an IED device and killed a dozen of Assad’s troops in the Sheikh Sa‘d area south of Nawa.
Within Deraa city itself heavy fighting was reported again near the Palace of Justice.
FIGHTING IN LATAKIA GOES SUSPICIOUSLY QUIET AS ASSAD REGIME CLEARS ALAWITE VILLAGES – LATAKIA CITY GETS NERVOUS:
In Lattakia province, rather suspiciously, fighting has gone rather quiet apart from this video footage released this morning Monday of Opposition fighters firing mortars at regime positions, HERE:
There are reports of Alawite villages being evacuated in northern Latakia and along the coast, so one wonders what the Assad regime has in mind? Hopefully not more chemical weapons.
Assad’s Barrel Bombs Dismembering Children for Life
For the first time Latakia city is now full of displaced refugees sleeping in local schools and nervousness among the general population in increasing, HERE:
In Damascus province, Syrian Government forces are said to have recaptured Sarkha and Ma’aloula in the Qalamoun this morning, Monday, though earlier reports said that Opposition fighters had withdrawn.
Ma’aloula is particularly significant as it is a famous Christian village where they still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus.
The Al-Nusra Front captured 12 nuns from the village in December and exchanged them for the release of many women prisoners held by Assad. The nuns said they had been genuinely “well-treated” – much to the annoyance of the Assad regime who were unable to make any PR capital out of the abduction.
Around Damascus city the Syrian Air Force has kept up a relentless rocket and barrel-bomb attack on the Opposition suburbs, particularly those east of the capital. In Douma barrel-bombs hit a crowded market place killing at least 5 children among other victims.
The Opposition town of Mleiha has been bombed for 10 consecutive days as regime troops try to break in, though there are reports they have reached the outskirts.
The Opposition brought their own tank into play, HERE:
Despite all the above, delusional President Assad made a speech at Damascus University on Sunday claiming his army was “winning the war against terror”.
“This is a turning point in the crisis, both militarily in terms of the army’s achievements in the war against terror, and socially in terms of national reconciliation processes and growing awareness of the truth behind the (attacks) targeting the country,” he said.
This confidence is not reflected on the currency markets where the value of the Syrian pound dropped to 176 to the US dollar on Sunday from 156 a few days earlier. Since March 2011, the Syrian pound has lost more than three-quarters of its value against the US currency.
And lastly a group supporting the Syrian Opposition have made an animation about how the extreme Jihadists of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL or ISIS) are “manufactured”, (Arabic only) here:
Fierce air assault reported near the capital even as President Assad declares war has turned in government’s favour.
Online footage showed highly destructive barrel bomb attacks on Daraya, southwest of Damascus [YouTube]
|Syrian jet fighters are reported to have launched a fierce offensive against a string of opposition strongholds, including Kafr Zita, a village north of Damascus that was recently hit by an alleged poisonous gas attack.
Other towns on the edges of the capital, including Eastern Ghouta area, were also hit by the bombardment, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Sunday.
“Warplanes carried out two air strikes against areas of Douma” northeast of Damascus, the UK-based monitoring group said, adding that “at least five people including one child were killed and several others injured”.
One of the strikes on Douma, an opposition stronghold since early in the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad, hit a crowded marketplace, according to the Syrian Revolution General Commission, a network of activists on the ground.
Douma and other towns and villages in Eastern Ghouta have been under a Syrian army siege for a year.
Sunday’s offensive came as Assad said that the three-year war tearing the country apart was turning in the government’s favour, state television reported.
“This is a turning point in the crisis, both militarily in terms of the army’s achievements in the war against terror, and socially in terms of national reconciliation processes and growing awareness of the truth behind the [attacks] targeting the country,” the TV channel quoted Assad as saying.
Details of the poisonous gas attack on Friday in Kafr Zita, a village in Hama province about 200km from Damascus, remain sketchy.
State television and rebel forces traded accusations over the attack that reportedly caused “suffocation and poisoning” of residents. The Syrian National Coalition, the main opposition group, said the attack hurt dozens of people.
The Syrian Observatory also reported air strikes against Hammuriyeh, east of Damascus, and highly destructive barrel bomb attacks on Daraya, an opposition bastion southwest of Damascus.
The air raids came as fighting raged on the edges of Daraya pitting rebels against the army, which for more than a year has waged a bitter campaign aimed at securing the capital.
Other air raids targeted Mleiha, also in Eastern Ghouta, while clashes pitted rebels and their Al-Nusra Front allies against the army and its Lebanese Shia ally Hezbollah, the Syrian Observatory said.
Mleiha has suffered heavy bombing for 10 consecutive days, as the army and Hezbollah attempt to break through rebel lines.
The Syrian Observatory said government forces on Sunday took control of areas on Mleiha’s edges.
North of Damascus, the army overran a string of hills overlooking Rankus, a former opposition stronghold in the strategic Qalamun mountains that fell to the regime on Wednesday, said state television.
Against this backdrop, the state news agency SANA reported “the death of a young man and the wounding of 22 others” in a mortar attack launched by “terrorists” in central Damascus.
State media uses the government’s term “terrorists” to refer to rebels fighting to topple Assad’s regime.
Damascus comes under frequent mortar fire. Sunday’s attack hit Beirut Street, located near the army command headquarters.
The Syrian Observatory said two people were killed in the attack.
More than 150,000 people have been killed in Syria’s war, and nearly half the population have been forced to flee their homes.
(Source / 13.04.2014)
World View: New claims say Ankara worked with the US and Britain to smuggle Gaddafi’s guns to rebel groups
The US’s Secretary of State John Kerry and its UN ambassador, Samantha Power have been pushing for more assistance to be given to the Syrian rebels. This is despite strong evidence that the Syrian armed opposition are, more than ever, dominated by jihadi fighters similar in their beliefs and methods to al-Qa’ida. The recent attack by rebel forces around Latakia, northern Syria, which initially had a measure of success, was led by Chechen and Moroccan jihadis.
America has done its best to keep secret its role in supplying the Syrian armed opposition, operating through proxies and front companies. It is this which makes Seymour Hersh’s article “The Red Line and The Rat Line: Obama, Erdogan and the Syrian rebels” published last week in the London Review of Books, so interesting.
Attention has focussed on whether the Syrian jihadi group, Jabhat al-Nusra, aided by Turkish intelligence, could have been behind the sarin gas attacks in Damascus last 21 August, in an attempt to provoke the US into full-scale military intervention to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad. “We now know it was a covert action planned by [Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan’s people to push Obama over the red line,” a former senior US intelligence officer is quoted as saying.
Critics vehemently respond that all the evidence points to the Syrian government launching the chemical attack and that even with Turkish assistance, Jabhat al-Nusra did not have the capacity to use sarin.
A second and little-regarded theme of Hersh’s article is what the CIA called the rat line, the supply chain for the Syrian rebels overseen by the US in covert cooperation with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The information about this comes from a highly classified and hitherto secret annex to the report by the US Senate Intelligence Committee on the attack by Libyan militiamen on the US consulate in Benghazi on 11 September 2012 in which US ambassador Christopher Stevens was killed. The annex deals with an operation in which the CIA, in cooperation with MI6, arranged the dispatch of arms from Mu’ammer Gaddafi’s arsenals to Turkey and then across the 500-mile long Turkish southern frontier with Syria. The annex refers to an agreement reached in early 2012 between Obama and Erdogan with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar supplying funding. Front companies, purporting to be Australian, were set up, employing former US soldiers who were in charge of obtaining and transporting the weapons. According to Hersh, the MI6 presence enabled the CIA to avoid reporting the operation to Congress, as required by law, since it could be presented as a liaison mission.
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The US involvement in the rat line ended unhappily when its consulate was stormed by Libyan militiamen. The US diplomatic presence in Benghazi had been dwarfed by that of the CIA and, when US personnel were airlifted out of the city in the aftermath of the attack, only seven were reportedly from the State Department and 23 were CIA officers. The disaster in Benghazi, which soon ballooned into a political battle between Republicans and Democrats in Washington, severely loosened US control of what arms were going to which rebel movements in Syria.
This happened at the moment when Assad’s forces were starting to gain the upper hand and al-Qa’ida-type groups were becoming the cutting edge of the rebel military.
The failure of the rebels to win in 2012 left their foreign backers with a problem. At the time of the fall of Gaddafi they had all become over-confident, demanding the removal of Assad when he still held all Syria’s 14 provincial capitals. “They were too far up the tree to get down,” according to one observer. To accept anything other than the departure of Assad would have looked like a humiliating defeat.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar went on supplying money while Sunni states turned a blind eye to the recruitment of jihadis and to preachers stirring up sectarian hatred against the Shia. But for Turkey the situation was worse. Efforts to project its power were faltering and all its chosen proxies – from Egypt to Iraq – were in trouble. It was evident that al-Qa’ida-type fighters, including Jahat al-Nusra, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) and Ahrar al-Sham were highly dependent on Turkish border crossings for supplies, recruits and the ability to reach safety. The heaviest intra-rebel battles were for control of these crossings. Turkey’s military intelligence, MIT, and the paramilitary Gendarmerie played a growing role in directing and training jihadis and Jabhat al-Nusra in particular.
The Hersh article alleges that the MIT went further and instructed Jabhat al-Nusra on how to stage a sarin gas attack in Damascus that would cross Obama’s red line and lead to the US launching an all-out air attack. Vehement arguments rage over whether this happened. That a senior US intelligence officer is quoted by America’s leading investigative journalist as believing that it did, is already damaging Turkey.
Part of the US intelligence community is deeply suspicious of Erdogan’s actions in Syria. It may also be starting to strike home in the US and Europe that aid to the armed rebellion in Syria means destabilising Iraq. When Isis brings suicide bombers from across the Turkish border into Syria it can as easily direct them to Baghdad as Aleppo.
The Pentagon is much more cautious than the State Department about the risks of putting greater military pressure on Assad, seeing it as the first step in a military entanglement along the lines of Iraq and Afghanistan. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey and Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel are the main opponents of a greater US military role. Both sides in the US have agreed to a programme under which 600 Syrian rebels would be trained every month and jihadis would be weeded out. A problem here is that the secular moderate faction of committed Syrian opposition fighters does not really exist. As always, there is a dispute over what weapons should be supplied, with the rebels, Saudis and Qataris insisting that portable anti-aircraft missiles would make all the difference. This is largely fantasy, the main problem being that the rebel military forces are fragmented into hundreds of war bands.
It is curious that the US military has been so much quicker to learn the lessons of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya than civilians like Kerry and Power. The killing of Ambassador Stevens shows what happens when the US gets even peripherally involved in a violent, messy crisis like Syria where it does not control many of the players or much of the field.
Meanwhile, a telling argument against Turkey having orchestrated the sarin gas attacks in Damascus is that to do so would have required a level of competence out of keeping with its shambolic interventions in Syria over the past three years.
(Source / 13.04.2014)
A group of rogue elements affiliated with former US President George W. Bush are plotting new chemical attacks in Syria, an analyst tells Press TV in an interview.
Kevin Barrett said sarin gas for potential attacks similar to the August 2013 deadly chemical raid on Syrians is being manufactured in Tbilisi, Georgia.
“I think we need to put this news out to the world … about the manufacture of sarin gas at Tbilisi and the fact that a rogue group of Americans is apparently behind this – people connected with the Bush administration,” the commentator said.
Barrett said US President Barack Obama’s redline warning on the use of chemical attacks a year ago “gave the insurgents tremendous motivation to conduct false flag gas attacks in order to blame” the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
He said the 2013 chemical attack in al-Ghouta was a “false-flag” operation by foreign-backed militants in that country to “bring in the US to bomb Syria.”
“So, I’m afraid that the war party in the US is up to its usual tricks,” said Barrett.
America’s leading mainstream investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh, recently published article exposing the chemical weapons attack in al-Ghouta last August as a false flag provocation.
By the time of the attack, the US and some of its allies blamed Damascus for the chemical attack on al-Ghouta. However, the Syrian government strongly denied the accusation, saying the attack was carried out by the militants operating inside the country to draw in foreign intervention. Subsequent investigations by the UN and Russia backed Syria’s assertions.
Over 130,000 people have reportedly been killed and millions displaced due to the violence fueled by Western-backed militants in Syria.
(Source / 13.04.2014)
Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad said Sunday that the three-year civil war is turning in the government’s favor, state television reported.
“This is a turning point in the crisis, both militarily in terms of the army’s achievements in the war against terror, and socially in terms of national reconciliation processes and growing awareness of the truth behind the [attacks] targeting the country,” the television quoted Assad as saying, Agence France-Presse reported.
Last week, the head of Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah, which supports Assad’s regime, said that the Syrian president was no longer in danger of falling.
“The danger of the Syrian regime’s fall has ended,” Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said in an interview with daily newspaper As-Safir.
The rebels “can opt for a war of attrition as long as there are countries funding it … But on the horizon, the opposition doesn’t seem to be able to wage a big war,” he added. “What is happening in Latakia and Kassab, we can’t call it a big war.”
Nasrallah said the three-year Syrian conflict has proved that the Assad regime is not “weak,” and the president enjoys “wide support.”
“We have passed the danger of dividing [Syria],” he said, adding that there were diplomatic offers given to President Assad from Arab states if he cuts ties with Iran.
‘Support and protection’
He also added that Russia, after annexing Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula, will further its “support and protection to Syria.
Hezbollah militants have been fighting alongside Syrian government troops against the rebels trying to oust Assad from power.
The Syrian conflict has evolved into a full-scale civil war with sectarian overtones and Islamic extremists, including foreign fighters and Syrian rebels who have taken up hard-line al-Qaeda-style ideologies, have played an increasingly prominent role among fighters, dampening the West’s support.
Since the revolt began in March 2011, 150,000 people have been killed and nine million have been driven from their homes, including 2.6 million international refugees.
(Source / 13.04.2014)
STEPPING ON THE GAS: Anti-Syrian regime protesters carrying a banner during a demonstration, at Kafr Nabil town, in Idlib province, northern Syria.
BEIRUT: The Syrian government and rebel forces say poison gas has been used in a central village, injuring scores of people, while blaming each other for the attack.
Syrian state television and medical sources in central Hama province swapped accusations Saturday over the attack that reportedly caused “suffocation and poisoning” of residents.
The main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, says dozens of people were hurt in a poison gas attack Friday in the village of Kfar Zeita.
State-run Syrian television on Saturday blamed members of the Nusra Front for using chlorine gas at Kfar Zeita, killing two people and injuring more than 100.
In August, a chemical attack near the capital, Damascus, killed hundreds of people. The US and its allies blamed the Syrian government for that attack, which nearly sparked Western airstrikes against President Bashar Assad’s forces. Damascus denied the charges and accused rebels of staging the incident.
Medics quoted by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights NGO said people choking from poisoning had been hospitalized after air raids with barrel bombs Friday on the town of Kafr Zita.
“Regime planes bombed Kafr Zita with explosive barrels that produced thick smoke and odours and led to cases of suffocation and poisoning,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.
But state television reported that Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front had released chlorine gas in a deadly attack on the town.
“There is information that the terrorist Al-Nusra Front released toxic chorine… leading to the death of two people and causing more than 100 people to suffer from suffocation,” it said.
“There is information that Al-Nusra Front is preparing to hit Wadi Deif in Idlib province and Morek in Hama province with toxic chorine or sarin,” the state broadcaster added.
There was no independent verification of either of the claims, which come after a chemical weapons attack outside Damascus last year.
The opposition and much of the international community blamed that attack, which reportedly killed as many as 1,400 people, on the Syrian regime.
The regime denied responsibility, in turn blaming rebels, but agreed under threat of US military action to turn over its chemical weapons stockpile for destruction.
(Source / 12.04.2014)
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said battles raged Friday for a second day in the oil-rich Deir el-Zour province near the Iraqi border.
A man walks past dead bodies in front of a river in the neighborhood of Bustan al-Qasr in Aleppo, Syria.
BEIRUT — The death toll from infighting between rival Islamic rebel groups in an eastern Syrian town has risen 68 killed, with some shot after being captured alive, activists said Friday.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said battles raged Friday for a second day in the oil-rich Deir el-Zour province near the Iraqi border. It said the fighting concentrated in the village of Haseen after members of the al-Qaida breakaway group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant were forced out of the nearby town of Bukamal.
Rebels from the Islamic State and fighters of the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front and other Islamic groups have been fighting each other in the province for weeks over territory previously captured from President Bashar Assad’s forces, including oil fields.
The Observatory said 68 fighters died in fighting around Bukamal on Thursday. The Islamic State briefly captured the town, previously controlled by the Nusra Front, for several hours.
An activist from the Deir el-Zour who is currently in Turkey told The Associated Press that Nusra Front fighters and their allies brought reinforcements into Bukamal and forced out Islamic State gunmen after midnight Friday following hours of intense fighting that killed more than 50 people.
The man, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals against his relatives in the province, said the Islamic State took its rivals by surprise when its members stormed Bukamal at dawn Thursday and marched through the city.
The Observatory said of the 68 killed in the fighting, some were “executed” by members of the Islamic State.
An amateur video released by the Observatory showed several men, including some who were handcuffed, shot in the head in a square in Bukamal. The narrator said the men were killed by Islamic State members.
The video appeared genuine and corresponded to other Associated Press reporting of the events.
Syria’s uprising, which began with largely peace protests in March 2011, has evolved into a civil war with sectarian overtones.
Islamic extremists, including foreign fighters and Syrian rebels who have taken up hard-line al-Qaida-style ideologies, have played an increasingly prominent role among fighters, dampening the West’s support for the rebellion to overthrow Assad.
That has led to a backlash by Islamic brigades and more moderate rebels who have launched a war against the Islamic State. Fighting between opposing rebel groups has killed more than 4,000 people since the beginning of the year, activists say.
(Source / 12.04.2014)