In Syria, Thousands Flee Moadamiya, Battle Rages in Aleppo

In an operation that appeared to have been coordinated between both warring parties, about 5,000 civilians — mostly women and children — were allowed to flee al-Moadamiya, and a Russian photographer was kidnapped in Aleppo.

al-monitor A Free Syrian Army fighter walks with his weapon through a hole in the wall in Aleppo's Karm al-Jabal district, Oct. 13, 2013. Photo by REUTERS/Saad Abobrahim.

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syrian opposition, syrian conflict, syria, islamic state of iraq and al-sham, free syrian army, aleppo

Oct 14, 2013

In an operation whose details are still unclear, a large number of civilians in the Damascus countryside have been able to flee one of the city’s most dangerous areas.

And Aleppo — once a major city of the Umayyad dynasty and which has been at the mercy of mortars — has recently witnessed renewed clashes between armed groups and gunmen belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). A Russian photographer was also kidnapped there.

In the last two days, there has been a dramatic development in Moadamiya, in the Damascus countryside. According to the Syrian News Agency (SANA), about 5,000 persons, mostly women and children, have been transferred to temporary housing in Damascus, while reports talked about a tacit agreement between the warring parties to allow that operation to proceed.

The Syrian Red Crescent transported the sick and elderly in the presence of the Minister of Social Affairs, Kinda al-Shammat, and the governor of Damascus. But there were no clear details about the operation and its relationship with the battles in Moadamiya, which is located 10 kilometers [6 miles] southwest of central Damascus.

Moadamiya is composed of a flat residential and agricultural area and a mountainous area. According to statistics by opposition activists in the region, about 12,000 persons still live there despite the war — 7,000 of whom are civilians. The town is encountering a humanitarian crisis because of a nearly yearlong siege by the Syrian army to cut off all supply and relief routes. The groves of Daraya are also under siege since that place is highly strategic, as it constitutes the southwest entrance to Damascus and is surrounded by Mezze military airport and the headquarters of the army’s fourth division.

The area is also an essential part of west Ghouta, and the Syrian army has been trying to gain control of it. The gunmen also want to control that area to use Daraya and Moadamiya as the gateway to the largest capital neighborhoods, that is, Mezze and Kfar Souseh.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, “Several mortar shells fell on the Kassa neighborhood in Damascus and resulted in casualties.” An opposition gathering calling itself Hijara min Sajil announced that they will be carrying out a military operation in which they will bombard several security and military posts. In a statement posted on social media sites, the group requested that the people in the neighborhoods of Kassa, Bab Touma, Faiha and Baghdad Street leave their homes or go to their basements. Similar statements were issued by brigades and battalions in the southern areas of Damascus.

Yesterday [Oct. 13], two mortar shells fell in al-Nijme Square in the center of the capital near Shaalan market, which has been very crowded recently as the Eid al-Adha holiday approaches. Shells also fell near the hotel where the inspectors of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons are staying in Abu Rummaneh neighborhood in Damascus. The shells killed one and wounded 11.

The Hijara min Sajil group consists of nearly 30 brigades and battalions in east Ghouta, including Al-Islam Brigade, Muslim Army Brigade, Abi Moussa al-Ashari Brigade, Farouq al-Sham Battalion and Shabab al-Houda Battalion. The group was announced about a month ago, and it promised to target government headquarters in response to the siege of Ghouta.

In Aleppo, the oppositionist Syrian Media Center reported battles and clashes in the neighborhood of Bustan al-Qasr. Meanwhile, the Al-Tawhid Brigade announced the kidnapping of a Russian citizen, whom they accused of being a spy. The Russian Foreign Ministry reported that a Russian photographer was kidnapped.

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Director Rami Abdel Rahman said clashes have occurred in Boustan al-Basha and in the Hanano housing complex in the heart of the city, specifically the part under opposition control. In that area, there has been battles between Saraya al-Ababil and ISIS, in which the latter was able to control the headquarters of the former. ISIS then erected checkpoint barriers in the area.

In a statement, the observatory said, “About 50 fighters were killed in three days of fighting between the jihadists and elements of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in Aleppo. ... The battles took place between Thursday and Saturday, between ISIS militants and an FSA battalion.” Meanwhile, opposition activists talked about clashes with Ghoraba al-Sham in the al-Indharat neighborhood north of the city.

The observatory said yesterday that warplanes attacked the gunmen-controlled Sfira city in the Aleppo countryside. It is located near a possible chemical weapons site.

Yesterday, SANA reported that gunmen kidnapped seven Red Cross workers on the Sirmin-Saraqib road in the Idlib countryside, after firing at Red Cross vehicles. A spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross said gunmen kidnapped six Red Cross staffers and one volunteer from the Syrian Red Crescent in Saraqeb.

Islamists blew up the Sufi shrine of Issa Abdul Kader al-Refai in Basira village in the countryside of Deir al-Zour. The oppositionist Abu Tayeb al-Dairi said, “ISIS has a base outside the village. The ease by which the shrine was destroyed indicates that their power is growing.”

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