Local Syrian ceasefires break down as shelling resumes

Local Syrian ceasefires break down as shelling resumes
A ceasefire in a Syrian town near the Lebanese border and in two villages to the north has broken down after renewed heavy shelling, a monitoring group said on Saturday.
5 min read
30 August, 2015
Douma witnessed heartbreaking scenes as bombs rained down on the surburb [Anadolu]

A rare moment of peace in Syria's cruel four-year war was shattered after a locally organised ceasefire between Damascus and rebels was broken.

For over twenty four hours, one of the most heavily bombarded areas of the conflict - Zabadani - enjoyed a brief lull from the daily horrors of war.

Shells rained down on Zabadani again on Saturday when a joint Syrian army and Hizballah force, occupying the outskirts of the town, broke the truce, according to opposition reports.

Rebels responded with an artillery barrage on two Shia-majority towns it has surrounded, in the mostly opposition-held province of Idlib.


For months, rebel groups fought off repeated regime assaults on Zabadani, close to the Lebanese border.

Civilians in Zabadani have suffered the most with continuous indiscriminate shelling and a crushing siege.

Rebels have responded by firing rockets at al-Fuah and Kefrayya, in Idlib province, some of the last pockets of regime presence in the northwest of Syria.

The planned truce was reportedly struck between the rebels, Turkey and Iran. Opposition leaders say that the regime played no role in the talks, sparking suspicions that that the planned ceasefire held no real weight.

The agrement would have seen 1,000 civilians evacuated from the two regime-held villages, while medical supplies would be shipped into starved Zabadani.

Another version of the deal was that the rebels would pull out Zabadani and Damascus would effectively cede some of its last areas of control in Idlib province.

Opposition-held Idlib had suffered continuous bombing from the regime costing 2,382 civilian lives in little over a year.

As one of the rebel's main strongholds, the daily bombardments - including crude but deadly barrel bombs -appear to be a callous act of revenge on the people for breaking away from Damascus rule.

Since a rebel alliance, backed by Nusra, overran the province's two most important areas in March and April - Idlib city and Jisr al-Shughour - the regime has been the backfoot, but its aerial supremacy is unchallenged.

Abu al-Dahur

However, the regime's Abu al-Dahur airbase in northern Syria is now under threat, as a joint al-Nusra Front and rebel assault appears to be entering its final days.

On Friday, Nusra suicide bombers riding motorbikes drove at the the camp's security. Other rebel fighters seized the entrance to the camp.

It allowed the opposition groups to take control of several key positions surrounding the base and mount a serious assault on the defenders.

The rebels are also perched on the northern mountains of the regime's heartland in Latakia, bolstered by almost absolute control neighbouring Idlib province.

Rebel rockets have hit the Alawite-majority province - and even Bashar al-Assad's hometown, Qardaha.

Syria's air force mounted heavy bombing on rebel positions in the northern Latakia Mountains, which has reportedly killed dozens of rebel fighters over the past week.

But now Latakia looks increasingly vulnerable, and there have even been rare protests among Alawites - the same religious group as Bashar al-Assad's family, and almost exclusively pro-regime - against the management of the war.


Most of the anger is directed at the Islamic State group siege of Kweres airbase in Aleppo province.

The regime appears to be helpless to bolster the defences of the camp, and the outcome would be the same as other regime camps that have been stormed by IS -ultimately the massacre of all those holed up in Kweres.

It has forced a stiff resolve that has so far staved off repeated assaults - from at first rebel groups and now IS fighters - and dozens, including many officers, have died defending the base.

[Click to enlarge]

IS and the regime are also fighting to the west of Palmyra city. On Tuesday, the extremist group released images of its fighters using TNT to destroy the 2,000-year-old Baal Shammin temple in the ancient ruins of Palmyra.

The extremist group, which occupies vast areas of desert and some urban areas in eastern Syria - as well as much of northern Iraq - have been knotting up territory again close to the Turkish border.

Reports from al-Araby al-Jadeed on 6 August revealed that Nusra fighters were ordered to withdraw from Aleppo province, handing over power to rebel forces who have so far proved considerably weaker in the war against IS.

This was said to be part of a Turkish plan to establish an opposition-run "safe zone" free of IS, which had been fighting opposition forces in the area.

IS fighters seized control of three villages near Marea on 27 August, an important supply route for the rebels, which lie just a short jump away from the Turkish border.

Rebels continued to repel the IS militants on Friday who responded with a barrage of shells on Marea.

On Friday, ARA news agency reported that IS fighters were tightening their siege on the rebels in Marea.

The rebel group the Levant Front promised the town would not fall, and are busy setting up fortifications around the town. But the defence has been bloody, costing dozens of rebel fighters in brutal conflict.

Sahl al-Ghab

There was a major setback for the rebels over the border, when a militia commander, Jamil Raadoun, was assassinated after a car bomb exploded outside his home in southern Turkey.

Rival rebel groups are suspected of being behind the bombing, but his Suqur al-Ghab militia has been engaged in a major offensive against regime forces in the Sahl al-Ghab plains, sparking confusion about the culprits.

Rebels, led by Jaish al-Fatah, lost control of some rural areas of the plain to Damascus last week.

On Wednesday they were successful in winning back several important villages and inched closer to the regime's headquarters in Sahl al-Ghab.


Yet close by - and also near to the Syrian capital - the rebels have been helpless to prevent daily bombings of opposition-held areas.

Douma witnessed more heavy bombing this week, with dozens - if not hundreds - of civilians dead from a merciless aerial armada on the Damascus suburb.

In the rural belt that surrounds the capital, the 163,000 inhabitants of eastern Ghouta have witnessed unimaginable suffering.
Shelling, bombing and starvation have left 15,000 children in Ghouta without any parents, Anadolu news agency reporter - amid a cresendo of explosions and gunfire.

Bombs continued to fall on the trapped civilians of Eastern Ghouta, with 1,300 civilians killed or injured in ten days of air raids, it was revealed this week by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Yet again, the people of Syria have been the targets of the conflict, and their deaths bring no end to the slaughter.