Syria: Rebels make gains in Aleppo, Qunaitra

Published April 8th, 2014 - 05:37 GMT

Rebel groups claimed gains in the city of Aleppo and Qunaitra province bordering Israel Monday, while regime troops killed several dozen rebels in attacks near the capital.

A sign that the violence had stepped up was Sunday’s nationwide death toll, compiled by the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which said 303 people had been killed, 239 of them fighters from the various sides.

Opposition media outlets said some 30 rebel groups declared they had formed joint command centers in Qunaitra province to bolster a campaign designed to relieve pressure on rebels waging an offensive on the coast.

The rebel units include a number of groups that are active in the neighboring Hawran province, the Al-Qaeda affiliate the Nusra Front, and several members of the Islamic Front, an alliance of seven conservative militias.

The Observatory said the rebel-jihadist alliance seized the village of Tulul al-Humur and disabled a regime tank. Pro-opposition sources said the regime was unable to relieve pressure on the village, where a number of regime troops have been besieged for weeks.

In the city of Aleppo, the Observatory said the Nusra Front and its Islamist militia allies seized part of the Rashidin neighborhood following fierce clashes with regime troops and paramilitaries, as eight airstrikes and a number of barrel bombs dropped by helicopter targeted the area.

It said four fighters from the Nusra Front and its Islamist allies were killed, and reported at least seven casualties in regime ranks.

Anti-regime activists alleged that Hezbollah fighters retreated from the battle when their commander was killed, as tension emerged with the Syrian army’s elite Republican Guard over how the battle was being waged.

The Observatory said the Nusra Front managed to disable a regime tank in Rashidin, while two rebels were killed in clashes with regime troops in fighting that broke out near the Air Force Intelligence headquarters in the city, which rebels have been targeting on and off in recent weeks.

The regime has for several months instituted a stepped-up campaign of air strikes and barrel bombs, dropped by helicopter on rebel-held neighborhoods.

The armed opposition killed at least 10 people and wounded 30 others Monday, when it pounded the regime-held neighborhoods of the city, Saadallah Jabiri and Hamdanieh, with mortar bombs.

Rebels also used homemade mortars to shell the Political Security headquarters in Maysaloun neighborhood, although the Observatory said the casualty figure in the attack remained unknown.

Regime troops and rebels were killed during battles near the town of Khanaser, southeast of Aleppo, and fighting also raged at the Brigade 80 headquarters. The exact casualty figures remained unknown, the Observatory said.

Regime troops have meanwhile killed dozens of rebels over the past 48 hours during clashes in rural Damascus province. In the Wadi Barada region north of Damascus, 21 rebels were killed in fighting late Sunday, while army troops backed by Hezbollah fighters killed 20 rebels in an ambush near Adra, to the east of the capital, also late Sunday.

Three regime soldiers were killed in fighting near Adra, the Observatory said, adding that regime troops suffered another 30 casualties in recent days in fighting in various parts of the Ghouta suburbs and elsewhere in Rural Damascus province.

The Observatory said that in the mountainous Qalamoun region, which borders Wadi Barada, regime troops and their allies were advancing against the town of Rankous, a key rebel stronghold.

Idlib province also saw fierce clashes between regime forces and rebel groups, as airstrikes and barrel bombs were used to target rebel positions following their gains made in recent days.

Rebels continued to fire into Alawite-majority areas as part of their coastal “Anfal” offensive. Grad rockets struck near the city of Jableh on the coast, and a number of mortar bombs struck the Alawite-majority village of Karsana, but only material damage was reported.

The Observatory said a stick of TNT exploded in the Slaibeh neighborhood of Latakia, considered an opposition bastion.

One rebel fighter was killed in clashes in northern Latakia province, while a lieutenant in the paramilitary National Defense Army was killed in fighting near Observation Post 45. Both sides suffered an unspecified number of casualties near the village of Tshalma, the Observatory said.

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