Islamist Rebels Capture Military Base in Syria’s Idlib Province
Islamic insurgents overran a military base in northwestern Syria on Monday, in the latest string of victories for a coalition of anti-regime forces moving closer to President Bashar al-Assad’s strongholds, AP reports.
The capture of al-Qarmeed camp on Monday comes two days after Islamist insurgents, including militants from the Syrian al-Qaida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, captured the northwestern town of Jisr al-Shughour in Idlib.
Most of Idlib province is now under opposition control, giving the insurgents a strong foothold to gain ground against regime forces elsewhere in the country. Regime forces were ousted from the provincial capital, Idlib city, earlier this month.
The insurgents have been trying to push government forces out of the regime’s few remaining bases in Idlib province, putting the insurgents closer to the neighboring provinces of Latakia and Hama, the strongholds of President Assad.
“An array of anti-Assad armed factions from across the ideological spectrum has demonstrated a degree of sustained coordination previously unseen in northern Syria, contributing to the campaign’s success,” AP writes.
Since Saturday, the regime has responded to the seizure of Jisr al-Shughour in Idlib with airstrikes across the province, killing at least 73 civilians on Sunday and Monday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
U.N. Confirms Push for Peace Talks in May, Extends Invitation to Iran
The United Nation’s special envoy to Syria said on Friday that he planned a series of one-on-one meetings early next month with the country’s government, opposition groups and regional powers, including Iran, to assess the prospects of a peace process to end the war, Reuters reports.
In January, Staffan de Mistura said the conditions were not yet right to launch another set of talks after two previous rounds of negotiations had failed. However, the envoy was recently instructed by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to “focus much more to re-launch a political process” after his attempt to broker a local truce in the northern city of Aleppo failed to materialize.
“There is nothing new telling us today that the political process will succeed or not,” de Mistura told reporters. “We will start in early May and we will be meeting one after the other, everyone. Not together, separately.
“By the end of June we should hopefully be in the position of reassessing whether there is any convergence on issues of substance or not,” de Mistura said.
He confirmed that Iran would be invited as a major player in the region with influence in Syria. In January 2014, Ban invited Iran, a major ally of the Assad regime, to attend a round of Syria peace negotiations in Switzerland, then withdrew the invitation due to Iran’s lack of support for the Geneva Communiqué.
Earlier this month, a U.N. spokesman made it clear that the new talks, scheduled to begin in May in Geneva, would be convened under the terms of the 2012 Geneva Communiqué, a document that set out a plan for a political transition in Syria but left unresolved the future role of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
Syria Eases Passport Process for Citizens Abroad
Syria’s government has issued a decision to allow Syrian citizens abroad, and refugees who have fled the war, to obtain passports without an intelligence service review for the first time, AFP reports, citing Syria’s al-Watan newspaper.
Al-Watan, a pro-regime newspaper, reported over the weekend that President Assad’s government would relax its intelligence review for applicants – in an attempt to “create an appropriate climate” ahead of consultations in Geneva next month on the possibility of reviving stalled peace talks.
The newspaper stated that the new regulations were detailed in a document circulated on Thursday to Syrian embassies around the world.
The new measure means that those seeking to obtain or renew passports will no longer have to wait to have their documents renewed by intelligence officials in Damascus.
The government’s intelligence review process has long deterred many of those who escaped the country from applying for travel documents.
“Many of the nearly four million Syrians who have fled their country’s conflict left illegally, fearing arrest or conscription if they passed through an official crossing,” AFP reports.
Others left their passports behind out of fear that they may be apprehended and identified, while others have seen their documents expire while they are away, effectively prohibiting any opportunity to flee the situation in their country of refuge.
According to the official document seen by al-Watan, passports will be issued to Syrians “even if they left in an illegal manner,” so as to “facilitate their return to the country.”
Damascus has yet to confirm the policy change through official channels.
Earlier this week, new passports fees were announced, with prices doubling to $400 for a new passport, and $200 for a renewal.
Al-Watan reported that the revised fees associated with obtaining a new passport or a renewal would be “an important source of foreign exchange” for foreign currency-strapped Syria.
- Al-Monitor: Abductions in Syria Cause Widespread Fear
- The Wall Street Journal: Syrian Opposition Forces Seize Military Base
- The Guardian: Syrian Rebels Hail Fall of Jisr al-Shughour as Sign of Growing Strength
- Al Jazeera: Israeli Strikes in Syria Highlight Fears over Hezbollah’s Growing Arsenal
- Reuters: Two Migrant Sisters from Syria, Now Worlds Apart
Photo Courtesy of AP Images