Jabhat al-Nusra deals blow to Syrian army camp in Idlib

Jabhat al-Nusra and its allies have been waging violent attacks on the strategic al-Mastumah camp in Idlib, thus causing the Syrian army’s loss of control over the area surrounding the camp.

al-monitor Islamist rebel fighters stand on a tank that belonged to forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Qarmeed camp after the rebels took control of the area, April 26, 2015. Photo by REUTERS/Abdalghne Karoof.

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syrian civil war, syrian army, jabhat al-nusra, islamic state, iran, idlib, bashar al-assad, aleppo

May 20, 2015

In a new development on Syria's northern front, specifically in the countryside of Idlib, Jabhat al-Nusra — al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria — managed yesterday [May 19] to make a breakthrough in the war of control, after a violent attack that lasted several days at al-Mastumah camp, the largest Syrian army camp in the area, located near the city of Jericho.

Jabhat al-Nusra and its allies waged a violent attack on the Syrian army camp starting about five days ago. They heavily shelled the premises and detonated car bombs, creating a deep pit in the side of the camp. As a result, the Syrian army lost control over the strategic hill facing the camp.

The army tried to regain the points it lost through a massive operation, before retreating from the camp and the adjacent town.

According to a field source who spoke to As-Safir, the attack by Jabhat al-Nusra and its allies on the camp and its surrounding villages was violent, focusing on several fronts. This is seen as a new development in the pattern of battles waged by the organization, which has not been previously able to fight on several fronts at the same time.

However, the attack on al-Mastumah camp and the attempt to advance toward the city of Jericho happened as Jabhat al-Nusra was fighting on three fronts, which were mostly raging in the camp. Meanwhile, other insurgents attacked the villages of Nahlaya and Kafr Najad, with heavy shells on Jericho.

The Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) quoted a military source as saying, “Air and weapons support units are carrying out severe strikes on the sites of terrorists who infiltrated al-Mastumah camp and its surroundings in the countryside of Idlib, inflicting heavy losses.”

“Our units in al-Mastumah and its surroundings are fighting fierce battles with terrorist groups and are being deployed on the appropriate defense line around the region to strengthen their positions in Jericho,” [the military source] added.

According to the field source, Jabhat al-Nusra suffered “major” losses in the battles in the past three days. Yet the group and its allies insisted on carrying on with the attacks, sending kamikazes inside al-Mastumah camp the early morning of May 19. The group also launched an extremely violent attack that pushed the army stationed in the camp to withdraw to Nahlaya and Jericho, after having transferred major military equipment and destroying what had been left at the site, according to the source.

The Syrian army's withdrawal coincided with heavy fighting on the Mastumah-Jericho road, where heavy weapons and artillery have been used. However, accurate information on casualties has yet to be issued.

The loss of al-Mastumah camp is a turning point in the ongoing battles along Syria's northern border with Turkey. Jericho is the last city under the control of the Syrian regime in the Idlib countryside. The city is holding up despite the heavy shelling, while the villages of Kafriya al-Fu’ah are suffering from an acute shortage in food and medical supplies, waiting for the completion of the vast military operation launched by the Syrian army to regain the north.

On a front near Idlib’s countryside, the national hospital where the Syrian army has taken refuge witnessed relative calm after days of fierce battles. The army units are preparing to attack the sugar factory checkpoint to the eastern side of the city. The Syrian forces managed to expand their area of control within a 3-kilometer [1.8-mile] radius of the hospital headquarters.

In Aleppo, the Syrian army blew up a tunnel that militants had dug in the Old City, resulting in the “death of a number of militants,” according to a field source. The rest of the city's fronts are witnessing a state of calm.

Moreover, the defense forces at Kweiris military airport in the eastern Aleppo countryside deterred an attack by the Islamic State (IS) militants. IS has been seeking to control the airport, which is the Syrian army’s last area of deployment in the region adjacent to areas under IS control.

In Damascus, the high tempo of shelling and bombings has returned in some of the capital’s neighborhoods.

Al-Assad suburbs and the Abbassiyyin area were heavily shelled, wounding several civilians, while five people, including two children, were killed by a roadside mine planted by IS militants on the Homs-Palmyra road.

In Suwayda, the Syrian army, with the help of popular committees, managed to deter a violent attack by IS on the village of al-Hoqof village in the northern countryside of Suwayda. The operation ended with the death of a number of IS militants and the withdrawal of the group that carried out the attack. In the meantime, SANA reported that “the Syrian army units, in cooperation with the Popular Defense Groups, seized control of the village of Qabar Shamia in the countryside of Hasakah, after destroying the last site of IS.”

Assad and Velayati

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said during a meeting with Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, “The resistance axis is now recognized at the international level and no party can ignore it anymore.”

During a meeting with Foreign Minister Walid Moallem, Velayati said, “The Iranian people and leadership are keen on continuing to stand by Syria and support it with all the necessary means of resistance so that the Syrian people continue to defend their country and deter terrorism and its supporting countries.”

SANA stated that the meeting between Assad and Velayati stressed the “importance of the strategic relations between the two countries. These relations are on the building blocks in the fight against Western projects and the illusions of terrorist and Wahhabi forces to revive empires. These forces are attacking the region’s people and seek to destroy and weaken their countries.”

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