Syria rebels stop army advance on seized town
Syria rebels stop army advance on seized town
In its bid to retake the town, located in northwest Syria on the road from Damascus to the embattled city of Aleppo, the army used warplanes to bombard Maaret Al-Numan, killing at least two civilians and destroying three homes.
Some 40 military vehicles, including 10 tanks, four-wheel-drive vehicles with mounted machine guns and buses loaded with troops were forced to stop 10 kilometers (six miles) south of the town, rebel fighters told AFP.
The rebel Free Syrian Army used anti-tank rockets and improvised explosives to block the army’s progress.
The FSA seized control of Maaret Al-Numan on Tuesday, pushing the army out into two military bases on its outskirts, and blocking the arrival of new reinforcements to Aleppo.
“The rebels tried again to storm the Wadi Deif army base (on Saturday) ... when they were bombarded by a MiG fighter jet,” said Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman.
Fierce machine gun battles raged near the base.
Regime forces have been launching rockets daily from the two bases on the outskirts, focusing their fire mainly around an underground emergency field hospital.
On Saturday, army shelling injured 20 rebel fighters, the Observatory said.
Some 125,000 people once lived in Maaret Al-Numan and its outskirts but most have fled because of the violence. Alongside the rebels, only a few elderly men remain in the town, guarding homes and shops.
Rebel fighters decorate their motorbikes and the few cars they have with the colors of the Syrian independence flag, which has come to symbolize the revolt against President Bashar Assad’s regime.
Experts say the Syrian army has been worn down by an increase in the number of battlefronts and rebel attacks that have cut major supply routes and undermined the regime’s military superiority.
The army relies mainly on its monopoly on air power to slow the progress of the insurgency.
“The army can try and take back the town from rebel hands temporarily, but it’s clear that it can no longer keep control of it,” said the Observatory’s Abdel Rahman. “The army is genuinely losing control in the north.”
Rebels staged a massive assault on Aleppo, Syria’s traditional commercial hub, on July 20, after they had slowly built up a strong presence in the countryside of Idlib and Aleppo, both neighboring Turkey.
Both the army and rebels have since kept up a continuous flow of reinforcements into Aleppo city, as they bid to take full control.
“There are thousands of rebel fighters all across the northern belt of Syria, mainly in Idlib and Aleppo, and the army has been unable to do much about that,” said Abdel Rahman.
One year after Daesh defeat, Syria’s Raqqa still in fear
- While the nightmare of militant rule may be gone, most of the city still lies in ruins
- ‘The war has worn us out. Us and our children. It has destroyed our future’
RAQQA, Syria: A year after a US-backed alliance of Syrian fighters drove the Daesh group from the northern city of Raqqa, traumatized civilians still live in fear of near-daily bombings.
“Every day we wake up to the sound of an explosion,” said resident Khaled Al-Darwish.
“We’re scared to send our children to school ... there’s no security,” he added.
The militants’ brutal rule in Raqqa was brought to an end in October 2017 after a months-long ground offensive by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces supported by air strikes from a US-led coalition.
But despite manning roadblocks at every street corner, the SDF and the city’s newly created Internal Security Forces are struggling to stem infiltration by Daesh sleeper cells.
At Raqqa’s entrance, soldiers verify drivers’ identity papers and carefully sift through lorry cargoes.
Inside the city, there are regular foot patrols and armored vehicles sit at strategic points.
Women wearing the niqab are asked to show their faces to female security members before entering public buildings.
“If there wasn’t fear about a return of Daesh, there wouldn’t be this increased military presence,” said Darwish, a father of two, speaking near the infamous Paradise Square.
It was here that Daesh carried out decapitations and other brutal punishments, earning the intersection a new name — “the roundabout of hell.”
While the nightmare of militant rule may be gone, most of the city still lies in ruins and there are near daily attacks on checkpoints and military vehicles, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Although a series of stinging defeats have cut Daesh’s so-called caliphate down to desert hideouts, the militants still manage to hit beyond the patches of ground they overtly control.
Some Raqqa residents say the city’s new security forces lack the expertise to cope.
“We are exhausted. Every day we don’t know if we will die in a bomb explosion or if we will go home safe and sound,” said Abu Younes, sitting in his supermarket near a roundabout not far from Paradise Square.
“There is no security — (the new security forces) on the roadblocks are not qualified and there is a lot of negligence,” he complained.
“There are faults that enable Daesh to infiltrate the city easily and carry out attacks.”
But despite the continued attacks, a semblance of normal life has returned to the city.
Shops have reopened and traffic has returned to major roads — albeit choked by the impromptu checkpoints.
In a public garden, children climb up a multi-colored slide and onto dilapidated swings as their mothers sit on nearby benches carefully keeping watch.
They are set amidst an apocalyptic backdrop of twisted metal and splayed balconies — the remnants of buildings torn apart by US-led coalition air raids.
Nearby, Ahmed Al-Mohammed pauses as he listens to music on his phone. Like others, he does not hide his disquiet.
“We’re scared because of the presence of Daesh members in the city,” the 28-year-old said.
“The security forces need to tighten their grip.”
Ahmed Khalaf, who commands Raqqa’s Internal Security Forces, defended the work of his men and claimed successes against the militants.
He said patrols are highly organized and that a “joint operation cell” had recently been established with coalition forces to monitor the city’s security.
“Recently we arrested four (militants) — it was a cell that took part in attacks that terrorized the city,” said Khalaf, sporting plain green fatigues.
“We are continuing our investigation to uncover the other cells,” he added.
“Daesh’s goal is to destroy the country and to not let anyone live in safety,” he said.
Security and stability are what Najla Al-Ahmed wants most for her children.
“The nightmare of Daesh follows us everywhere — whenever we try to rest, explosions start up again,” said the 36-year-old, as she shopped with her young ones.
“The war has worn us out. Us and our children. It has destroyed our future,” she said.