Open Confrontation in Southern Syria as ‘Moscow Forum’ Sputters Along

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Kurdish fighters walk through the wreckage left by fighting on a street in the center of the Syrian town of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, on January 28, 2015. AFP/Bulent Kilic

By: Ahmad Hassan

Published Wednesday, January 28, 2015

In Syria, the situation on a number of fronts is flaring up. Meanwhile, a cold breeze is blowing over the “Moscow Forum,” where the Syrian government and a small part of the Syrian opposition are discussing the prospect of holding negotiations. After the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the al-Nusra Front fighters took control of “Brigade 82” post in the city of al-Sheikh Maskin in southern Syria, the city witnessed a military escalation, one that soon extended to most villages in the Daraa countryside.

After the Syrian army brought in reinforcements from the town of Izra’, the militants’ movements and posts were targeted by the Syrian regime’s artillery and aircrafts. Direct clashes between the two sides killed and wounded scores of armed opposition fighters, including a prominent field commander in the “Fallujah Houran Brigade.” The confrontation, which began to escalate Tuesday afternoon, reached the towns of Atman, al-Fiqi, al-Dali, and al-Sahiliyah, toward which the armed opposition factions moved concurrently in an attempt to “distract” the Syrian army from the battles in al-Sheikh Maskin, which the insurgents seek to capture in order to control the Damascus-Daraa road.

The noise from the clashes could be heard all the way to villages in northern Jordan. A military source told Al-Akhbar that “the armed groups’ plan to take full control of the city of al-Sheikh Maskin has failed.” The Syrian army and al-Nusra Front clashed in the outskirts of the city of Zabadani, the latter incurring losses in the towns of Yaboos and Kafir Yaboos, north of the Beirut-Damascus road. The militants tried to cut off the Damascus-Quneitra road near the Khan al-Sheikh camp south of the capital.

Local sources told Al-Akhbar that fighters from Kobane in northern Syria have started to set up permanent military posts inside the city, after the defenses of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) collapsed in its eastern districts. The same sources confirmed that Kobane’s fighters “have split up; a number remained to secure the city’s defenses and entrances, while others joined the forces fighting ISIS in the eastern countryside.”

In Deir Ezzor province, Syrian army units destroyed a 71-meter long and 6-meter deep tunnel in the neighborhood of al-Bayadeya in the city’s (Deir Ezzor’s) countryside. Opposition websites circulated news Mohammed Falah, an ISIS leader, was assassinated with a silenced pistol in the city of Mayadin.

The opposition coordination committees stated that 11 ISIS militants have been killed — including the “emir of Hajez al-Shoula,” also known as “Abu Talha al-Tunisi” — after being targeted by unknown assailants on the road to al-Kam in the area of al-Khor. They said that 10 militants defected from the ISIS police unit called “al-Hisbah” in al-Raqqa and fled out of the city, adding that the general ISIS “Sharia judge” in the city of Tal Abyad in the al-Raqqa countryside — also known as “Abu Ali al-Harbi” — has fled to Turkey.

In related news, as part of the “Demolishing Fences” battle declared by the FSA’s “Brigade 16” in Aleppo, the Syrian army fought broad battles in the Ashrafieh neighborhood, foiling an attack by the militants and inflicting heavy losses on them.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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