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Syria rebel leader killed in bomb attack Hassan Abbout, the leader of Ahrar Al-Sham Hassan Abboud, the leader of Ahrar al-Sham group, among top commanders killed in bombing at meeting in Idlib. The leader of one of Syria's most powerful rebel groups has been killed along with dozens of other commanders in a bomb attack on a high-level meeting in Idlib province. Hassan Abboud, the head of the Ahrar al-Sham brigade, was among up to 45 people killed on Tuesday at the meeting in an underground bunker near an ammunition dump outside Ram Hamdan. The Idlib meeting brought together Ahrar and a number of other brigades fighting as the Islamic Front alliance, such as Ahrar, Abdallah Azzam and the Iman brigades, to discuss a strategy to fight the Islamic State. Activists named others killed in the attack: Abu Yazan al-Shami, a member of the Ahrar's shura council, military field commanders Abu Talha al-Askari and Abu Yousuf Binnish, and Abu al-Zubeir, the head of the Iman brigade. Abu al-Mustafa al-Ambsi, a member of the political bureau of Ahrar, told Al Jazeera that the group was investigating the attack. "There is a possibility that the meeting was infiltrated and an explosion happened first in the bunker," he said. "Maybe someone planted a device inside because the bunker is at a secret location”. He said that killing of such an elite group "will only make us more resilient to fight and continue the fight until we liberate our homeland". It is not known who staged the attack but Islamic State sympathisers hailed the death of Abboud on social media. Another of Ahrar's leaders, Abu Khaled al-Souri, a close associate with al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, was killed by the Islamic State earlier this year. That assassination caused the schism that pitted the Islamic State group against other rebel factions in Syria. Ahrar has about 20,000 fighters and is the main force in the Islamic Front alliance, which was formed earlier this year to oppose the Islamic State group. Ahrar advocates for a state run on Islamic principles, which protects the rights of women and religious and ethnic minorities, and disagrees with the approach of the Islamic State group. In an interview with Al Jazeera in December 2013, Abboud said he would fight for his rights and dismissed talks in UN-brokered Geneva between the Syrian government and the exiled rebel umbrella Syrian National Coalition "We see Geneva as a tool of manipulation - to derail the Syrian revolution away from its goals and objectives ... whatever outcome the conference may yield, will be binding on the Syrian National Coalition only. "For us, we will continue to fight for our revolution until we restore our rights." However, the rise of the Islamic State after the Geneva talks gave the civil war a new dimension, with Ahrar fighting not only the government but other rebel groups. Aljazeera https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PzyrlVjm3XY
Syrian army advancing in battle for rebel town near Lebanese border, field commander says SAHEL, Syria - Syrian government troops are tightening their grip on the last rebel stronghold near the border with Lebanon a day after taking control of a key village in the area, a field commander told reporters on Tuesday. Forces loyal to President Bashar Assad have seized a string of towns and villages in the rugged Qalamoun region along the Lebanese border since launching an offensive there in November. Backed by gunmen from the Lebanese militant Hezbollah group, the army seized the village of Sahel this week and is closing in on Yabroud, the largest town in the mountainous region still in rebel hands. The government operation aims to sever the rebel supply routes from nearby Lebanon and shore up its hold on the main north-south highway that runs through the area. During a government-led tour of the village of Sahel, a Syrian commander told reporters that troops ousted opposition fighters from the village Monday, bringing down the rebels' "first defence line" of Yabroud. The officer did not provide his name, in line with military regulations. Hezbollah guerrillas have played a significant role in the government push. The Lebanese Shiite militant is eager to clear the border area of the overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim rebels trying to topple Assad's government. Hezbollah claims that several cars used in recent bombings targeting predominantly Shiite neighbourhoods of south Beirut have been rigged in Yabroud. Al-Qaida-linked groups have claimed responsibility for several of the attacks in Lebanon, saying they were retaliation for Hezbollah's military support for Assad. Opposition groups said fighting was raging Tuesday on the edge of Yabroud, with government helicopters dropping barrel bombs on the town's outskirts. The makeshift bombs, which the government has used to devastating effect in other parts of Syria, are packed with explosives and fuel and are intended to cause massive damage to urban areas. Rami Abdurrahman, the director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights activist group, said rebels fighting in Yabroud belong predominantly to hard-line Islamic groups, including the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front and the breakaway group of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Syria's state news agency reported heavy fighting around Yabroud on Tuesday. It said the army destroyed a car fitted with a machinegun, and killed fighters from the Nusra Front and other rebel groups. The Syrian field commander said the army is determined to clear the area by launching a final assault from Sahel. He said "moral was high among the troops as they fulfil their mission" to capture Yabroud. Sahel was deserted on Tuesday as the government troops escorted reporters along. There was damage on several houses and a mosque, apparently from fighting, and telephone and electricity cables were torn from poles and strewn on sidewalks. At least one body could be seen on the ground. "It was a real battle and we didn't give the gunmen any chance to negotiate," the commander said. He did not say if the army or the rebels sustained any casualties, but said the troops detained more than 30 opposition fighters after capturing the village. Many of those captured were Syrians, the commander said, although there were also foreign fighters who had travelled to Syria from Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Lebanon to battle Assad's troops. Hezbollah in Action near yabroud http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A9Ekr7mHQRE&feature=youtu.be http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yy-Ig3Lx_kE
Syrian Dissident Harmoush: I was Betrayed, Army Defection a Plot The dissident Major Hussein Harmoush admitted in a testimony broadcast on the Syrian TV on Thursday that he had been contacted by Muslim brotherhood members, Zouheir al-Siddiq, Mohammad Rahal, Abdul-Halim Khaddam, his two sons, and the office of the former Vice President Rifaat al-Assad, in addition to calls from radical cleric Adnan Araour and political dissent Borhan Ghalyoun after he defected from the Syrian Army on June 6, 2011. They promised him with money and gear, but got nothing. On their need for weapons, Harmoush said: "The plot was to provide weapons for protecting the unarmed civilians, but weapons or any other materials mere not supplied." Al-Siddiq and the Muslim Brotherhood smuggled weapons into Homs, Hama, Idleb and the Palestinian Ramel in Lattakia, Harmoush added. He said that weapon smuggling from Turkey was carried out by merchants in the border areas where weapon merchants and smugglers exist, SANA reported. He also said that the first time he was video-taped was in Bdama district in Jisr al-Shughour when a person gave him SYP 50,000 and the person received about SYP 2 millions for the video tape. "I have been thinking about coming back since Ramadan 15, but I was shocked to be used as a trade and how people begged money in my name and offered many promises none of which was met." Harmoush concluded. The dissident added that he escaped from the Army because of the bloody events in the streets… a number of people were killed, and I am sure that the armed groups were the killers." "During my service in the Syrian Army, nobody has ordered me to fire at the civilians or any others, I didn't see or hear any commander in the army that had given orders to shoot fire at the civilians," Harmoush admitted. This comes as Syria has criticized the latest meeting of Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi with figures from the Syrian opposition. Syria presented the Arab League with a ‘strong formal protest memorandum’ over the latest meeting of its Secretary General with figures claiming to represent the Syrian opposition who, in turn, handed al-Arabi a list of demands calling for all forms of flagrant foreign interference, including the military intervention in Syria's internal affairs. Syria's Permanent Representative to the Arab League (AL) Yousef Ahmad, in the memo, expressed deep concern over this step as a serious precedent in terms of the joint Arab action, wondering of such irresponsible act by the AL Secretary General who exceeded his powers and mission defined by the AL charter in contrast to a firm fact that he is the secretary general of a regional organization representing Arab countries.
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