Internal loyalist violence as Russia begins strikes

JAF October 5

Early last week, images posted to the Facebook page of Assad family insider Fatima al- Assad appeared to show her wounded and bleeding. The accompanying text explained that she had been shot four times by a government militiaman and his mother.

#برسم_السيد_الرئيس_الى_متى!!!!تعرضت عصر يوم الاثنين السيدة فاطمة زوجة الشهيد هلال الأسد الى اعتداء مباشر وعن سابق تهديد…

Posted by Fatima Massoud Alassad on Monday, September 28, 2015

Recently, her son Suleiman al- Assad became a notorious figure among government loyalists. Suleiman allegedly killed Colonel Hassan al- Sheikh during an apparent road rage incident in Latakia this past August. The incident lead to outrage among the normally loyal Alawite population, with many demanding Suleiman’s execution. Hassan al- Sheikh’s brother appeared on Syrian radio station Sham FM to discuss the crime, which he claimed to have witnessed himself.

Shortly after his arrest, rumors circulated Suleiman had already been released. Two critics of his have been reported killed since he was reportedly set free: Sham FM director Waddah Yousef and civil engineer Nabil Hamdan, who spoke out against Suleiman.

The exact motivations of Fatima’s attackers are unclear, as is her condition. Huffington Post Arabic reported that she survived the attack. Fatima is the widow of  Hilal al-Assad, NDF founder and cousin of president Bashar al- Assad. Hilal was killed in March 2014 by rocket fire claimed by Jaysh al- Islam.

Eyes have been fixed on Latakia the past few weeks, as Russian equipment and personnel deployed to the area. On Wednesday, the Russian parliament unanimously voted to approve the use of air power in Syria. That same day, Russian air raids struck rebel positions across Idlib and Homs. US officials decried these bombings as counter productive to a negotiated solution and a distraction from the fight against ISIS. Russia’s intervention also runs counter to a longstanding western drumbeat calling for the removal of Syrian President Bashar al- Assad. The bombing campaign raises concerns that US-trained rebels may be struck in the operations.

Russia Today celebrated over 50 anti-ISIS strikes over the course of the first three days. The report claimed a bomber destroyed an ISIS camp “near Maarrat al- Numan.” ISIS controls no territory in the immediate vicinity of the town, with their closest positions east of Homs and northeast of Aleppo. The same article also reported the destruction of a workshop in Idlib, but used the generic term “terrorist” to refer to its operators.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov acknowledged Moscow targeted Jabhat al- Nusra and “other terrorist groups,” according to AFP. Russian strikes also reportedly hit Raqqa for the fist time on October 1.

RT continued to report strikes on non-ISIS militants under headlines referring only to the Islamic State group by name.

Russia Today report from Latakia airfield.

With coalition, Russian and Syrian planes all active across the region, it can be nearly impossible to tell which faction struck a specific target. But FSA, Islamist and ISIS positions all suffered a thorough bombing campaign over the past week.

On Tuesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported unknown warplanes flying over ISIS positions in Raqqa and al- Bab. The Combined Joint Task Force for Operation Inherent Resolve made no claims to target Raqqa on that date. Pro-government source Al-Masadar news reported SyAAF jets active above Raqqa the day before, acting on Russian satellite intelligence.

Tartus residents respond positively to Russian intervention.

Aftermath of airstrikes on FSA base in Idlib.

Destruction of base in Maarrat al-Numan by Russian Air Force. 

Ammo dump explodes, Idlib.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry voiced support for Russian intervention in Syria on Saturday. Earlier today French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that airstrikes must target terrorist groups beyond ISIS, according to Naharnet.

Air power also harassed rebels in the mountains of Latakia. Nabi Yunis peak, Jabal al- Akrad and Jabal al- Turkman were struck, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. In response to the air campaign against them, rebel group Ahrar al- Sham targeted the coastal airbase with rockets.

Ahrar al-Sham claims direct hits on Latakia airport with Grad rockets.

Meanwhile in the city of Idlib, teams prepared medical facilities for 145 wounded from Zabadani, according to SMART News Agency. As part of a ceasefire deal agreed upon last week, fighters from the encircled town of Zabadani will be transported to Idlib and 500 people will be released from government prisons. In exchange, 10,000 women, children and men over 50 years-old will be evacuated to government areas from the besieged towns of the Fu’ah, Kafraya pocket.

Idlib medical facilities prepped for Zabadani wounded. 

Aid packages prepared by Jaysh al-Fatah for incoming residents from Zabadani. 

Abu Bara speaks with Fu’ah defenders. Translation available here

Mujahideen Army fires on government forces in Latakia highlands. 

With Jaysh al- Fatah positions in Idlib and Homs likely softened, the time may be ripe for a government counteroffensive.

For background about Jaysh al- Fatah, check out last week’s writeup. (Links from September 21 – 28)

Start at the beginning with my fall of Idlib post. (Links from 2011 – Summer 2015)

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