Syria launches counter-attacks, sees UN rep as biased

Syria accused UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura of bias after he condemned the government for attacks against civilians.

August 18, 2015 21:33
2 minute read.

Smoke rises after what forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad said were warehouses for rebel fighters in al-Maslamiyeh village. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Syria accused UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura of bias after he condemned the regime for attacks on civilians.

Mistura condemned Syrian air strikes on a market in Douma on Monday, which killed around 100 people – criticism that led the Damascus government to say he was “straying from neutrality.

Government forces recaptured four northwestern villages on Tuesday as they pounded the area with air strikes in a counterattack on insurgents threatening strongholds of President Bashar Assad, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Regime warplanes by Tuesday afternoon had carried out more than 100 strikes since the previous night on parts of the Sahl al-Ghab plain seized by rebels in an advance this month, the Britain-based Observatory said.

Joel Parker, a researcher on Syria at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, told The Jerusalem Post that an interesting point about the recent violence is that Jaysh al-Islam, a major Islamist brigade active around Damascus and in northern Syria, appears to be at the center of the action.

A Syrian military source said the air force attacks on Sunday on Douma and the nearby area of Harasta targeted Jaysh al-Islam, or the Army of Islam, and were a response to recent attacks on nearby government- held areas.

Parker said the Army of Islam is fully supported by Saudi Arabia and serves as a counter to Islamic State, which Riyadh sees as a threat.

He went on to point out that according to a report he has seen, the Army of Islam may have been responsible for the recent rocket attack on the government-held coastal city of Latakia on Monday.

The attack killed at least three people, in the second lethal attack there in four days, the Observatory and state media reported.

State television said the rockets fired at Latakia came from insurgent- held areas to the north of the city. Last week, rockets killed at least two people in Latakia.

The Army of Islam has gained importance within the constellation of Islamist rebel groups as of late since it has been battling Islamic State and pushing into areas of Syria that the Assad regime considers its stronghold, continued Parker.

This month’s insurgent advance into the plain brought rebels, including the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, to the eastern edge of mountains that form the traditional heartland of Assad’s Alawite community, forcing the army to retreat to new defensive lines.

The war that began more than four years ago has stepped up its pace recently, intensifying on major front-lines including near Damascus.

The Observatory also reported advances by Hezbollah and the Syrian Army in the rebel-held town of Zabadani near the Lebanese border, where a local cease-fire collapsed over the weekend after talks between the warring sides failed to produce a longer truce.

Government forces dropped 25 barrel bombs on the town, which is of crucial importance to Assad and Hezbollah because of its location at the Lebanese border and its proximity to Damascus, the Observatory said.

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