Monday, April 15, 2013 James Miller in EA Live, EA Middle East & Turkey, Middle East and Iran (See also Iraq (and Beyond) Live: At Least 20 Killed in Bombings Across Country)
Sunday’s Syria Live: Assessing the Insurgency
1606 GMT: Massive Airstrikes Near Turkish Border. Sarmada, in northern Idlib, close to the border with Turkey (map) has been pummeled by several massive airstrikes today. A series of videos, taken from perhaps a dozen angles, shows explosions, and panic in the streets.
Recently, what may be 500 kg (roughly 1100 lb) Fab-500 bombs have been documented, equipped with parachutes. Today, what appears to be the remains of a parachute bomb were seen in a video from Sarmada. It’s not clear what kind of bomb this was. Another video, taken right after one of the bomb strikes, shows the crowded streets of the town reacting. Several videos show wreckage, damage to homes and other structures. And this video shows the sounds of a jet echoing through the street as smoke from an explosion rises and people rush to get indoors.
1539 GMT: 30 Children Killed Yesterday in Damascus. Yesterday, intense airstrikes rocked the Qaboun district in northeastern Damascus. Today, the National Coaltion of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces has released a press release that states the airstrikes killed 30 children. The National Coalition says that the children appear to have been targeted by the regime, part of a systemic targeting of innocent non-combatants, including children:
The Declaration of the Rights of the Child, adopted by the United Nations in 1959, states that every child (regardless of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, whether of himself or of his family) shall be protected against all forms of neglect, cruelty and exploitation (articles 1 and 9). The Assad regime’s targeted crimes against the children of Syria clearly violate this declaration.
Furthermore, The International Convention on the Rights of the Child, which came into force in 1990, sets out to further protect the rights of children. Nations that ratify this convention are bound to it by international law. Syria is a signatory of this convention, however the Assad regime has not only neglected the rights of the child, but has used children as human shields, and targeted playgrounds and schools with aerial strikes. Thousands of Syrian children have been killed and thousands more are wounded with serious physical and psychological injuries due to the Assad regime’s violence against its own people.
1445 GMT: Assad Airstrikes in Idlib Province. Assad’s army may be trying to push north towards Ma’arrat al Nouman, but his airforce is casting a wider net, bombing roadside bombs along key routes near the city. One video reportedly shows heavy smoke from cluster bombs dropping incendiary bomblets in Alnkir, southwest of Ma’arrat (map). Intense airstrikes have also rocked Saraqeb, north of Ma’arrat (map). The goal appears to be to soften open new roads to the north, stop rebel reinforcements, but also to terrorize civilians living in areas where the rebels may be passing through.
1410 GMT: Rebels Respond to Regime Victories. Ma’arrat al Nouman, in Idlib province, is perhaps the most important rebel-held position, and has been for many months. Since it was captured, Syrian rebels have been able to expand their control of Idlib province, lay siege to the provincial capital, and cut the key regime supply route to Aleppo, allowing rebels to make significant advances in Aleppo province.
Without Ma’arrat al Nouman, the Assad regime cannot win this fight.
However, the rebel control over the city has hardly been uncontested. Two key bases, heavily fortified areas, defend this key crossroads, and their thick walls and formidable defenses designed to withstand foreign invasion have thus far proven uncrackable for the relatively lightly-armed rebels.
Those bases have been surrounded by rebels, however, and in recent weeks the rebels have intensified their attacks against the bases. But over the weekend the regime responded, launching an offensive which has reportedly broken the siege and delivered much-needed supplies to these key bases. At the very least, these new supplies may reset the clock for two bases that have withstood rebel attacks for months.
It remains to be seen, however, whether or not the regime can press further than this. The mountains of Idlib have proven a significant challenge for the Assad regime. Long before they had lost the key crossroads in this area, their tanks and supplies were eaten alive by rebel ambushes. Already today, there is news of heavy fighting south of Ma’arrat al Nouman. The opposition’s Local Coordination Committees reports:
Idlib: Jabal Zawyeh: The FSA resists attempts by regime forces to storm Tah town to secure an alternative road than the International Highway to reach Wadi Daif through the areas located east if the International Highway and withdrawal of regime forces to Baboulin.
On the map below, regime strongholds are marked with a red marker, rebel strongholds are marked with a green one, disputed areas are marked with yellow, and major clashes are marked with a red flame. It’s incomplete, and we’ll continue to pay close attention to this crossroads.
View Syria – 2013 April 15 – EA Worldview in a larger map
This is a significant setback for the Syrian rebels, but it’s still unclear whether the regime is strong enough to push further than they have. If the front remains this far south of Ma’arrat al Nouman, then the Assad regime may have only gained time. We’ll have more analysis soon, but in Syria, time equates to death.
1334 GMT: Rebels Jury-Rig Anti-Aircraft Missile. Man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS) are shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, capable of shooting down helicopters or low-altitude planes. The weapons are coveted by Syrian rebels, as they can knock enemy aircraft out of the air without a complex web of radar stations and missile launch sites. The international community is weary of introducing them into the conflict, however, because MANPADS could easily destroy commercial aircraft that were taking off or landing.
MANPADS have a built-in security system to ensure that they don’t fall into the wrong hands. The rocket-launcher tubes with working rockets are mandatory, of course, but the weapons also require grip stocks and batteries, units that are often shipped and stored separately. Many rocket tubes have fallen into the hands of insurgents in Syria, Libya, and beyond, but the grip stocks are more rare, and the batteries are very hard to come by. As a result, very few Syrian rebels have been filmed using MANPADS.
The blogger Eliot Higgins shares this video, which appears to show Syrian insurgents having jury-rigged a battery to fire the MANPADS system:
It’s unclear whether this weapon works, or whether the knowledge of how to do this is widespread. The weapon, in its current state, looks much less portable than its initial design intended.
1316 GMT: Damascus Rocked by Airstrikes. A clear day in Damascus brings airstrikes, and today the skies above the capital echo with the roar of jet engines and the shaking of explosions. All over Qaboun, Douma, and other eastern districts and suburbs of Damascus, many airstrikes are reported. These areas are near, but not on, the front line of battle between rebels and regime fighters.
This video, reportedly taken today in Douma, shows a massive smoke cloud rising as a jet engine, and a jet’s vapor trail, can be seen overhead:
James Miller takes over today’s live coverage in Boston. Thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us through today’s live coverage.
0910 GMT: Insurgents and Military Aid. The Guardian is pushing a lengthy article by correspondents Martin Chulov and Ian Black, “Syria: Jordan to Spearhead Saudi Arabian Arms Drive”. A few notes:
1. Despite the dramatic headline, the story — “Jordan has agreed to spearhead a Saudi-led push to arm rebel groups through its borders into southern Syria” — is not new. It has been emerging since January, including on EA.
2. So what’s new? Well, there is the assertion that the “move…coincides with the transfer from Riyadh to Amman of more than $1 billion”. The article never establish proof of the link, but look for the implication to stand.
3. More important and better-established is the attribution of Jordan’s motives to a fear of extremism amongst the insurgency and thus a willingness to arm “moderate” groups.
That in itself is a bit of a paradox, given that the narrative — before the story from January of a co-ordinated effort between the Arab States, the US, Britain, France, and Turkey — had been that the Saudis were backing some of the more extreme factions in the opposition.
4. And perhaps most important is The Guardian’s jump on tha bandwagon of the “Al Qa’eda” line, propped up by an unnamed Western official:
“It’s a race between them [Al Qa’eda] and the regular rebels to Damascus. And it’s in no one’s interests if Al Qa’eda win.
0510 GMT: Airstrikes and Casualties. In the latest claims of a mass killing by regime airstrikes, activists have said that at least 25 people were slain in the insurgent-held Damascus suburb of Qaboun and that at least 16 died in the mainly-Kurdish village of Hadad in Hasaka Province.
Claimed videos showed plumes of smoke over the areas and, in the case of Hadad, panicked people trying to save screaming victims. The regime has increasingly relied on airpower to attack the insurgency, attempting to retake or at least weaken the opposition grasp through protracted siege. Qaboun was taken by insurgents early this year and has suffered heavy street clashes and shelling since then. The Local Coordination Committees in Syria claimed that 124 people, including 18 children and seven women, were killed on Sunday. Of the deaths, 34 were in Damascus and its suburbs, 20 in Hasaka Province, 19 in Idlib Province, and 18 each in Homs and Aleppo Provinces. The Violations Documentation Center reports 56,808 people killed since the beginning of the conflict in March 2011, an increase of 142 from Sunday. Of the dead, 45,038 are civilians, a rise of 90 from yesterday.