By Peter Clifford © (www.petercliffordonline.com/syria-news-3/)
SYRIA and IRAQ NEWS
After Friday prayers in Mosul, the Islamic State issued an ultimatum to Christians in the city, saying that they must either convert to Islam, pay a tax on non-Muslims known as Jiziya, or give up their possessions and property and leave the city. Failure to comply would result in the death penalty as “a last resort”.
The statement was issued after Christian leaders failed to respond to a summons to attend a meeting with the Islamic State. As a result, most of the Christian population of the city, estimated at around 3,000, are said to be leaving as quickly as possible.
Islamic State Burns the Catholic Church in Mosul
Some reports say that the property of those who have already fled has been confiscated and Christian families being stopped at Islamic State checkpoints on the way out are being relieved of money and jewellery.
Most of the families affected are heading for relative safety of Dohuk and Erbil in neighbouring Kurdistan.
The main Catholic Church in Mosul was set on fire this morning, Saturday, and completely destroyed.
Meanwhile, the Turkish Consular building in the city is apparently being used as the headquarters of the Islamic State in Mosul, the whereabouts of the Turkish Consul-General and 48 of his staff and their families still unknown.
Both US and Iraqi forces have confirmed that as many as 52 X 155mm M198 artillery howitzers fell into IS hands in their rapid advance across Iraq and hundreds of Humvees. Each of the sophisticated artillery guns is equipped with GPS and have a range of 20 miles. Cost? Around $500,000 a piece!
There are also reports that the Islamic State is giving up the eastern part of Mosul to Naqshbandi forces (former Ba’ath Party members who followed dictator Saddam Hussein), while retaining control over the western half of the city, thereby releasing more of their fighters to travel south to their base at Tikrit.
The extent of the Islamic State’s complete rout of Iraqi Government forces in their attempt to retake Tikrit last week is only now becoming clear, with dozens of soldiers killed, many fleeing and the only support helicopter running out of fuel. A Shia fighter said the “doors of hell” opened as Government troops prepared to raise the Iraqi flag over state buildings.
“The bullets rained on our heads from everywhere and the suicide bombers were throwing themselves from the windows and detonated themselves in the air.” This second failed attempt to regain Tikrit has confirmed the view of military analysts that the Iraqi military on its own will never be able to retake western and northern Iraq.
Courtesy of the Institute for the Study of War, this is the latest visual and detailed ground situation report from Iraq on July 18th:
Iraq Situation Report July 18th 2014
On Thursday Islamic Front fighters penetrated nearby Camp Speicher, snipers and suicide bombers clearing a path all the way to the runway. Pilots flew out helicopters from the base to save them from destruction, but a Russian model failed to take off and was destroyed. The Government side claim that they killed at least 35 attackers.
IS claim that they had killed many pilots and soldiers, shot 2 helicopters out of the air and burned several aircraft on the ground as well as destroying army vehicles, fuel reserves and communications equipment.
Fighting for complete control of the base is ongoing and its loss would put a severe dent in the Iraqi Government’s already limited capabilities to launch attacks against the Islamic Front in the north of the country.
Elsewhere in Iraq, the Islamic State have launched another attack on Dhuluiya, north-west of Baghdad and to the north-east of the capital clashes are reported around Muqdadiyeh.
South of Baghdad fighting is also reported near Babel with deaths on both sides and an IS suicide bomber killed 6 policemen and wounded 3 more near the Balad airbase not far from the capital.
Unconfirmed reports say that up to 400 Iranian Revolutionary Guards have arrived in Iraq to protect Shia shrines, many of which have already been attacked or destroyed in IS controlled territory.
On the political front, the Iraqi parliament eventually got its act together this week and elected a Speaker, Salim Jabouri, and in a surprise move it was announced that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, who has been in Germany for long term medical treatment since December 2012, is returning home today, Saturday 19th July, to “resume his duties”.
Finally, the new “Caliph” is said to be anti-smoking in all its forms, including the Sheesha water pipe and has ordered its destruction.
Mass Destruction of Sheesha Pipes by IS
SYRIA NEWS: ISLAMIC STATE SEIZE GOVERNMENT GAS FIELD NEAR PALMYRA, WHILE ASSAD ACCUSED OF YET ANOTHER GAS ATTACK
In an audacious move, the Islamic State (IS) Jihadists, using their new found fire power captured in Iraq, yesterday, Thursday, attacked and took control of the Shaar Gas Field in the eastern part of Homs province not far from Palmyra.
As many as 90 – 100 pro-Assad militia, civilian security guards and employees were initially reported killed in the take over with another 340 unaccounted for. Another 30 militia are said to have escaped to the nearby Hajjar field.
Islamic State Fighters Parade in Raqqah, June 30th 2014
25 of those killed are reported to be civilian workers at the plant, while most of those guarding it were members of Assad’s National Defence Force or contractors working for Syria’s Oil Ministry. Gruesome video on the Internet shows the desert landscape at the site littered with dead bodies, some of them mutilated.
The Government state website, SANA, has made no mention of the attack.
The Islamic State, who are said to have lost 12 men in the fight, neutralised 8 checkpoints around the site with suicide bomb attacks before moving in and taking control of the whole gas field.
Latest reports on Saturday, say that IS have killed as many as 270 in fighting or by execution. A counter attack this morning by Government forces is said to have killed 40 IS Jihadists with the loss of another 11 pro-Assad fighters, but they have regained some ground. At least 100 are still missing.
In southern Damascus, there have been protests against the actions of the Islamic State, HERE:, while nearby at Al-Qadam, not far from the Yarmouk camp, there there have been clashes between Opposition and Government fighters.
According to unconfirmed activist reports, all Opposition fighting groups in Ghouta, east of the capital, will unite into one army and command next week, with other unconfirmed reports claiming that 200 members of Hezbollah have been killed since the start of Ramadan.
In a suburb of Malieha to the north-east of Damascus, Al-Nusra Front carried out a suicide bombing attack using an armoured personnel carrier while at the same time the Assad regime is reported to be raining down a new type of rocket on the town called an “earthquake” or alternatively an “elephant”, HERE:
On Wednesday, Bashar Al-Assad was sworn in as President of Syria for a third 7 year term, telling Western and Arab governments that they will pay a heavy price for “supporting terrorism”.
The much publicised “amnesty” of “thousands” of political prisoners announced by Assad shortly after his “re-election in early June, has turned, not unsurprisingly into a bit of a farce. A lawyer working with political detainees in Damascus said releases has not exceeded 1,300 people including ordinary criminal detainees.
Those released included about 400 people who went before the Anti-Terrorism court, 200 from Sednaya prison, 200 from the security branches, and 150 others from other governorate prisons. Some judges had apparently sent the files of some detainees due to be released under the amnesty back to the public prosecutor, requesting a change to the charges so that would then fall outside the scope of the general amnesty. You can read more fromHuman Rights Watch.
Yesterday, Opposition fighters repelled yet another attack from Government forces on the town of Morek (Mork) in Hama province, which is key to the route from Hama to Idlib. Following a ground attack the Opposition were hit with 15 airstrikes with significant losses on both sides and the frontline moving backwards and forwards almost hourly.
Trying to destroy the Opposition and their positions in surrounding towns and villages, the Syrian Air Force also hit Kfar Zita for at least the 3rd time with barrel-bombs containing a chlorine like substance that caused severe breathing difficulties in the local population, HERE:
Chlorine, being a widely used chemical in industry, was not listed as part of Assad’s declared stock chemical weapons arsenal, most of which, apart from a few unexplained discrepancies, has now been removed from the country. 200 tons of Syria’s neutralised chemical weapons arrived in the UK earlier this week for final destruction at specialised facilities.
SYRIA NEWS: OPPOSITION DESTROY MORE CHECKPOINTS AROUND LAST REMAINING ASSAD BASES IN IDLIB AND CAPTURE BASE IN DARAA PROVINCE
In Idlib province, the Opposition have moved forward yet again, destroying the Dabaan checkpoint protecting the Wadi Deif Army base and the Hajanak military checkpoint inside the Hamadiya Base, both of which have been under siege for over a year.
The Children of Kafranbel Expression Their Simple Dreams
The resupply of these bases is connected with the fight at Morek (see above), a very slim physical corridor now remaining to the Assad Government between the bases and territory it controls in Hama city (see map below).
Opposition fighters have additionally shelled with mortars the “poultry-barrier” at Camp Alhamdeh, HERE:
In Daraa province in the south, the Opposition have also captured the base of Battalion 26 and the Infantry Brigade 61 at Sheikh Saad, south of Nawa and north-west of Darra city. This video footage give a tour inside the base, one of the largest in Syria, HERE:
Sheikh Saad is seen as strategically important as it lies close to Al-Sanamayn and Izraa, two districts in Daraa which were seen as the first defence line for the capital Damascus.
North-east of Aleppo city the Islamic State are trying to invade the city of Akhtareen, while in Latakia the Opposition have repelled an Assad regime attack on Utiyraa village, south-east of Kassab.
A regime helicopter is reported to have dropped a TNT barrel-bomb on their own forces by mistake at Kafr Sagheer, killing 21.
In Deir Ez-Zour, the Islamic State (IS) are reported to have clashed with Government forces just a few hundred metres from the military airport, while IS following recent advances are estimated to be in control of 35% of Syria.
In the north of Raqqah province the Kurdish YPG militia lost 3 villages near Tal Abyad to the Islamic State, while 2 Belgian fathers came looking for their sons.
Both the sons were fighting with the Islamic State, one needing 4 insulin injections a day for diabetes, but the pair refused to return home. Video Report from the BBC’s Syria News service.
In Raqqah city itself there is now an all-female Islamic State Brigade that keeps “other women in order” and makes them dress, behave and follow the “faith” appropriately. You can read more, HERE:
At the same time there are also reports that a woman in Raqqah province has been stoned to death by the Islamic State for adultery, the first reported case in Syria. The appalling act of stoning took place in a public square in Tabaqa on Thursday evening. The victim was a 26 year old widow.
From Jordan, Save the Children Fund now says that the number of child marriages among Syrian refugees has now almost doubled since 2011, when it represented 13% of all weddings. Now it is over 25% in 2013 with the figure reaching 32% in the first quarter of 2014.
48% of the underage women were forced into unions with men at least 10 years their senior under laws which allow such marriages with the courts permission. Girls who marry before 18, says Save the Children Fund, are more likely to experience domestic violence than their peers who marry later, and they have much more limited access to sexual and reproductive health, putting severe strains on their very young bodies. You can read more,HERE:
From Turkey there are reports that the Government there is to take extreme action against the 1 million Syrians refugees living and begging on the streets of Istanbul, forcibly deporting them back to camps near the Syrian border if necessary.
800 Kurds from the Turkish side of the border are additionally said to have crossed the frontier to aid the Kurdish militia in their struggle to resist attacks from the Islamic State who are trying to get control of the border region of Ain al-Arab (Kobani in Kurdish).
A unanimous vote at the UN Security Council on Monday, Russia and China for once not exercising their veto, has ensured that cross border aid deliveries can be made to Opposition held areas of Syria, whether the Assad Government “gives its permission” on not.
The deliveries will come in via 2 border crossings from Turkey, 1 from Iraq and 1 from Jordan. The mandate lasts for 180 days and then will have to be renewed.
In this map, courtesy of @p_vanostaeyen, note how vulnerable some regime outposts are now around Daraa city, Idlib, Deir Ez-Zour, Aleppo, Raqqah province, Hassakah province and Qamishli, with very narrow entry and exit points, here:
Syria Situation Map 15.07.14