London, Asharq Al-Awsat – The al-Assad regime has intensified its military campaign throughout the country, increasing its presence in the Rif Dimashq governorate, whilst also escalating its campaign in the northern city of Aleppo.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights [SOHR] confirmed that al-Assad military forces escalated their aerial campaign targeting the vital Rif Dimashq governorate on Monday, whilst political activists in Aleppo informed Asharq Al-Awsat that “the regime continued its savage campaign against the city, opening a new front in the north where violent clashes are raging.” This coincided with a Free Syrian Army [FSA] announcement that opposition forces had succeeded in cutting off supply routes to al-Assad regime forces based in the city of Maarat al-Numan, located between Aleppo and Hama. For its part, opposition Local Coordination Committees [LCC] reported that around 100 people had been killed on Monday, the majority in Damascus and the surrounding area.
SOHR reported violent clashes in the town of Harasta, close to the capital, Damascus, “between fighters from rebel regiments and regular forces trying to storm the town” adding that “the town came under heavy shelling from regime warplanes.” SOHR also reported that two fighters, as well as three civilians – two men and one woman – had been killed in the fighting.
The official Syrian Arab News Agency [SANA] meanwhile reported that Attorney General Teysir al-Samadi had been abducted from the city of Daraa yesterday by unknown persons. The report claimed that “six terrorists kidnapped al-Samadi from outside the civilian court in Daraa” adding that the Syrian official was currently being held at an unknown location.
For its part, SOHR issued a statement confirming that al-Samadi had been abducted by “unidentified gunmen”. It also reported the kidnapping of a second official in Daraa, namely Mahmoud Fawwaz Akrad, a member of the ruling Baathist party’s local branch. SOHR also reported that in Rif Dimashq, the Judaydat Artuz gardens were shelled before being stormed by regime forces, confirming the deaths of two people during clashes with al-Assad forces in the towns of Duma and Judaydat Artuz. A rebel soldier was also killed in clashes with al-Assad regime forces in Rif Dimashq.
Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, Judaydat Artuz activist Ahmad al-Shami described the situation as being “extremely miserable.” He revealed that “there are random arrests taking place in the town and houses are being looted and burned. This is taking place in an extremely chaotic manner, as sometimes the houses of activists are chosen to be looted and burned, whilst at other times lootings and burnings are carried out as an act of mass revenge against the entire population.”
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat via Skype, the opposition political activist also revealed that “two people were killed yesterday and there are three corpses in the Khadija Mosque area but no one dares to claim them. There are also huge losses and large-scale destruction in Al-Jala’ and Al-Baladiyah streets.”
Al-Shami added “al-Assad regime soldiers and pro-regime Shabiha militia are carrying out provocative actions in the town’s square, dancing and singing over the bodies of their victims as they celebrate victory.”
The Shaam News Network reported that all areas of Harasta came under intense shelling by al-Assad regime forces yesterday, confirming that five people had been killed. In addition to this, reports indicated that the number of people killed in the town of Zabadani had risen to 13 whilst a single field hospital received around 50 wounded. Activists said heavy shelling by tanks and mortars continued since the morning targeting the towns of Zamalka and Ayn Tarma in Rif Dimashq.
Activists reported that similar operations targeted Hayy al-Ghawtah, near Damascus, confirming that a violent explosion shook the Al-Zahirah and Al-Midan neighborhoods. This occurred just one day after the car-bomb that exploded outside of a police station in the Bab Tuma neighbourhood of Damascus which claimed the lives of at least 15 people, according to Syrian state television.
In Aleppo, SOHR reported the continued shelling of Al-Firdaws neighbourhood for the third day, in addition to clashes in the Al-Midan and Salah-al-Din neighbourhoods. Aleppo based opposition activist, Mohamed al-Halabi, informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the regime forces had “opened a new front in the north where violent clashes are raging”.
He added “there is also intensified shelling and new attempts to storm the city from the western and eastern fronts, as well as the [new] northern front.”
Al-Halabi stressed that the FSA remains in control of all areas of Aleppo that it had seized more than four months ago, adding that the rebel forces had succeeded in retaking large parts of al-Midan neighbourhood as well as the entire Sulayman al-Halabi district. He also revealed that “the regime has recently begun to use rocket launchers in an extensive manner, which indicates that it is running out of arms.”
The al-Assad regime also renewed its shelling of the town of Dayr Hafir in Aleppo governorate, in addition to shelling the town of Azaz, close to the Turkish border. To the east of Azaz, al-Assad regime forces continued its shelling of the town of Maarat al-Numan in northern Idlib Governorate, which the FSA had seized two weeks ago. The FSA also sent reinforcement to the town of Wadi al-Dayf in preparation for future clashes with regime forces.
In a related context, Ahmad Qaddur, the Shaam News Network media spokesman in Idlib announced that “the FSA has declared the start of the operation to liberate Wadi al-Dayf” adding “clashes have been taking place since early morning.” He also revealed that “these clashes coincide with the violent shelling of the town’s northern-most neighborhoods and some outlying villages.”
He added “there is information indicating the presence of cluster bombs in the town, after these were previously deployed by regime forces.”
SOHR reported that “fire was seen to have engulfed regime forces checkpoints in Wadi al-Dayf following a violent attack by fighters from the Al-Nusrah Front and rebel regimes.” This attack occurred simultaneously with violent clashes that “destroyed four vehicles and which resulted in the deaths of at least nine soldiers and the wounding of 20 more.”
SOHR also reported that more than 21 regime forces soldiers had been killed during military operations taking place in Idlib, Daraa, Aleppo, Homs, and Rif Dimashq but did not give any more details. Activists also discovered the bodies of four people who were executed in the town of Busra al-Sham in Daraa governorate.