Syria Direct .....
MAD MEN: The Islamic Front blew up the Syrian army’s a-Sahaba checkpoint in the town of Wadi a-Deif near the M5 international highway in Idlib province on Monday amidst cries of “Allahu Akbar” as the ground flies dozens of feet in the air from the force of the explosion.
“The checkpoint overlooks wide, open expanses of territory, including the Aleppo-Damascus highway,” said Abu Ali a-Ruji, a reporter for Sham News Network in Idlib province, referring to the M5 highway, Syria’s main north-south artery.
Pro-opposition Shahba Press reported rebels had spent 45 days digging the tunnel and detonated 40 tons of explosives.
Mimicking a tactic rebels have employed in Aleppo province, rebels destroyed the checkpoint’s three buildings by detonating explosives planted in a tunnel burrowed dozens of meters long in order to reach the checkpoint.
A-Ruji said 40 regime soldiers were killed in the attack, while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported 30 had been killed.
The checkpoint forms part of the Wadi a-Deif military base just one kilometer east of the M5 highway connecting Damascus with central and northern Syria.
"Soldiers would target anything that moved on the highway from this checkpoint," a-Ruji said, adding that rebels from Liwa Dara'a a-Tawhid, Liwa Suqour al-Ma'ara, Liwa Fajr al-Islam and Liwa al-Muhajireen wa al-Ansar had coordinated in the operatons.
Official government news agency SANA made no mention of the attack, but reported Syrian forces had “ambushed terrorists belonging to a group called the Kourin Martyrs’ Brigade” in the Idlib province town of Sahel a-Ruj, 40 kilometers northwest of Wadi a-Deif.
The Wadi a-Deif encampment is considered one of the most fortified in the area, and contains large stores of weapons and equipment used by regime forces.
Rebels and government forces have engaged in a back-and-forth battle for control of the M5 international highway in the northern Hama and southern Idlib towns of Mourek, Khan Sheikhoun, Maarat a-Numan and Wadi a-Deif. Today, the government retains full control of the highway, the principal government supply route to its forces in Aleppo province.
Video courtesy of Suqour a-Sham.
-May 6, 2014
In our News Roundup, we summarize the day's most important events from local sources inside Syria. Subscribe here to have it delivered to your inbox.
Syrian government announces plans to ‘resuscitate Homs tourism'
Pro-regime forces shelled the rebel-held al-Waer district adjacent to Old Homs Tuesday, one day after Governor Talal al-Barazi told AFP that al-Waer might be the next goal for a truce.
A UN-supervised retreat of 2,500 rebels, injured people and citizens from the 13 encircled neighborhoods of Old Homs will begin this week. Meanwhile, four days after rebels in Old Homs and the government reached a ceasefire, al-Barazi announced plans to resuscitate tourism in Homs province. “Thanks to the sacrifices of the Syrian army, life will return in the province and tourism will be resuscitated,'' al-Barazi told official state news agency SANA, which added that the Ministry of Tourism was “working to document that damage wrought to archeological sites in Syria due to terrorist attacks.” If rebels inside Old Homs and the Syrian government uphold the terms of their truce, rebels will carry their light weaponry with them to rebel-held northern Homs province. Rebels have also reportedly agreed to identify booby traps inside the Old City.
HRW: Lebanon forcibly returned Palestinians to Syria
Human Rights Watch on Tuesday condemned the Lebanese government for having “forcibly returned about three dozen Palestinians to Syria on May 4, 2014” in addition to having “arbitrarily denied entry to Palestinians crossing over the land border from Syria.” More than half of the 540,000 Palestinians who lived in Syria before the Syrian conflict began in March 2011have been displaced, and 60,000 of them have sought refuge in Lebanon. HRW has previously documented the Jordanian government policy of barring entry to Palestinians fleeing Syria’s war, noting that “Jordanian authorities have forcibly returned over 100 Palestinians to Syria.” Meanwhile, UNRWA Spokesman Chris Gunness announced Monday that gunfire had interrupted aid distribution to Damascus’ Yarmouk Camp, where dozens of Syrians and Palestinians have starved to death in 2014 as a result of a government blockade.
Rebels destroy Idlib checkpoint, kill 30 government troops
Rebel fighters destroyed an army checkpoint near the M5 international highway in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province on Monday, with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reporting that the blast—which rebels executed using explosives planted in an underground tunnel—had killed some 30 government troops.
Pro-opposition Sham News Network reported Monday that Free Syrian Army and Islamic Front brigades had “destroyed the a-Sahaba checkpoint in its entirety.” The checkpoint forms part of the Wadi a-Deif military base just one kilometer east of the M5 highway connecting Damascus with central and northern Syria, and four kilometers northeast of the rebel-held town of Maarat a-Numan. Wadi a-Daif is considered one of the Syrian government’s most heavily fortified military bases in Idlib, and contains large stores of weapons and equipment used by regime forces.
Rebels destroyed a government checkpoint in the town of Wadi Deif in Idlib province on Monday using explosives planted in an underground tunnel. Photo courtesy of Suqour a-Sham.
Russia to sell Damascus fighter jets, Coalition condemns
The Syrian National Coalition on Tuesday condemned reports that Russia intends to furnish the Syrian government with 36 Yak-130 fighter jets by 2016, with Coalition member Nasser al-Hariri declaring that the news “will jeopardize international efforts aimed at ending the bloodshed in Syria, and demonstrates Russia’s insistence on aiding Assad in shedding the blood of the Syrian people.” Russia’s Kommersant newspaper reported Monday that Moscow plans to send Damascus nine aircraft by the end of this year, followed by an additional 12 in 2015 and 15 in 2016. The paper quoted a source saying that this arrangement “will fulfill obligations under a previously signed contract for the supply of 36 Yak-130 jets.” Kommersant reported last June that Syria had transferred roughly $100 million in advanced payment to Moscow for the first six jets.
US upgrades Coalition status in Washington ahead of Jarba’s visit
The US Department of State declared Monday that it had designated the Syrian National Coalition’s American offices as “foreign missions” ahead of the first official visit by Coalition President Ahmed Jarba to Washington, DC, in addition to announcing $27 million in new non-lethal assistance to the Coalition and further non-lethal equipment to officers in the Free Syrian Army.
The moves are intended to “empower the moderate Syrian opposition and bolster its efforts to assist those in need inside Syria,” according to the State Department announcement. In astatement Monday, Jarba called the announcement regarding the Coalition offices “an important step in the path toward a new Syria.” Jarba is set to meet with officials in Washington this week, and has stated his intention to lobby for the US government to provide Syrian rebels with advanced weaponry. The visit comes amidst mounting reports of US-made anti-tank weapons being used by moderate rebels in Syria, with no clear information yet regarding the weapons’ origins.
May 6, 2014
Last Friday, Syrian government and opposition fighters reached a ceasefire agreement designed to allow rebel fighters to relocate, along with their light weaponry, from the long-besieged Old City of Homs to opposition-held territory in northern Homs province. The withdrawal of more than 2,000 rebel fighters and civilians from Old Homs, which has faced a suffocating regime blockade since June 2012, will effectively leave pro-Assad forces in full control of Homs, Syria’s third-largest city.
As Old Homs’ citizens await evacuation, activist Orhan Gazi says that Homsis “have begun to distance themselves from the revolutionary mindset” that earned the city’s nickname as “the capital of the revolution.” Today, Gazi tells Osama Abu Zeid, the people of Homs “are now simply trying to live, nothing more.”
2,000 rebel fighters and civilians are expected to withdraw from Old Homs later this week. Photo courtesy of Twitter user@NoonPost.
Q: What will happen if Homs falls? How will it affect the Syrian Revolution?
I was inside the siege until not long ago. As I see it, the departure of the remaining young men from Homs will limit the revolution in liberates areas. Frankly speaking, what I have seen since leaving the siege is that Homs’s civilians have begun to distance themselves from the revolutionary mindset; they are now simply trying to live, nothing more. This means that public support for the revolution in Homs is very weak.
I’m not trying to exaggerate or make people into heroes, I want to tell you the reality of what’s happening now. I expect there are some youths who will leave Homs and continue to play a role in the revolution, but those people have to be prepared to plan their work and see it through to the end. We don’t want to repeat the same mistakes we have made in the past.
May 5, 2014
By Osama Abu Zeid and Kristen Gillespie
AMMAN: An agreement to allow safe passage to rebels and civilians out of Old Homs has left regime opponents divided, with some saying the battle will move to the provinces and others yearning to move on with their lives after two years of a strangling encirclement of their districts.
The estimated 2,500 fighters and citizens inside the 13 rebel-controlled districts of Homs agreed in principle on Friday to hand over to the government its territory in Syria’s third-largest city. A UN-supervised departure is scheduled to begin this week, Homs Governor Talal al-Barazi told AFP on Monday, adding that the ceasefire is holding.
With a ferocious government military campaign in recent weeks and gnawing hunger from a regime blockade in place since June 2012 that allowed almost no movement in or out, regime opponents said they had little choice but to surrender.
“We must put ourselves in the place of the people who lived in the siege and saw their children die from hunger, they saw their brothers die because of infected wounds due to shelling,” Suhaib Ali, a Homs-based FSA spokesman, told Syria Direct.
Rebels inside had little choice given “the neglect from the political opposition and the international community,” Ali said.
“What would you do?” he asked.
A young man walks through the largely-destroyed Old Homs neighborhood of Bustan al-Diwan on May 3. Photo courtesy of Lens Young Homsi.
While the details have not been publicly released, the deal reportedly involved the release of 70 pro-regime prisoners, opposition fighters and activists told Syria Direct, in addition to humanitarian access to two Shiite, pro-regime villages in the northern province of Aleppo that are currently encircled by rebel forces.
Pro-revolution sentiment flags
Rebels holding the 13 Homs districts were plagued not only by internal power struggles, lack of coordination, the effective use of informants reporting back to the regime but also sagging public support.
“I was inside the siege until not long ago,” said an activist named Orhan. “I want to tell you the reality of what’s happening now: Public support for the revolution in Homs is very weak,” he said.
Other activists inside and outside Homs agreed, with one saying that the fierce battles for Homs that drove hundreds of thousands of Syrians from their homes have swung public opinion back to the regime. “Public support has become loyal only to the regime after the displacement of many large neighborhoods to outside Syria or to other provinces,” he said.
The city center of Homs, Syria's third largest city, sat in ruins on May 2. Photo courtesy of Lens Young Homsi.
With only a few thousand fighters left in Homs, observers had predicted the central Syrian city would fall months ago. But the rebels hung on, despite internal strife and persistent regime bombardment, perhaps knowing they would not win but also that they would not be defeated militarily.
Roughly three weeks ago, regime representatives approached local leaders in the 13 regime-held districts of Old Homs. A draft agreement for a truce was reached, but fell apart after the pro-Assad National Defense Force militia rejected it.
“The NDF led a fierce military campaign against the besieged areas,” says Hassan Abu a-Zain, 28, a spokesman for Homs’s Youth Council and one of the people who negotiated with regime forces. The subsequent military campaign, with the rebel districts getting pounded every day in recent weeks, failed to force the last remaining rebels to surrender.
Finally, the regime and its allies “became convinced that current conditions would not allow them to enter Homs militarily and that the only way to enter would be through renewed negotiations, attempting to take control of the city with as few casualties as possible,” a-Zain said, an account matching that of other activists on the ground.
Still, fighters outside Homs say they may have lost the city, now heavily reinforced with regime forces along its perimeter, but they vow not to lose the province.
“If this truce is completed in Homs, it does not mean Homs has fallen into regime hands, it means the rebels of Homs will continue their struggle in other areas,” says Abu Odai, a spokesman for the Feiliq a-Rahman Brigade in Damascus.
“Homs is one of the provinces, not all of them,” the rebel spokesman said, referring to the ongoing battles in Syria’s 13 other provinces.
For nearly two years, the regime cut rebel-held Homs off from the outside world, posting signs in and around the city reading “kneel [submit] or starve.” The impact of starvation and loss appears to have drained the will of Homs residents to fight for their exhausted city, current images of which evoke Dresden following World War II.
“What I have seen since leaving the siege is that Homs’s civilians have begun to distance themselves from the revolutionary mindset” said Orhan, the activist.
“They are now simply trying to live, nothing more.”