BEIRUT: Syrian President Bashar Assad marked the country’s Army Day national holiday Friday by pledging there would be no let-up in his regime’s battle with “terror,” after a month in which his military’s casualties marked a sharp jump.
Assad’s remarks came in the Jaysh al-Shaab army magazine, which relayed his pledge that the armed forces would triumph against rebel groups and jihadists, which he said represented “imperialist-terrorist plans for strife and partition.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-regime group based in Britain, said that out of 5,340 total casualties during July, the highest-ever level – 38 percent – were in the ranks of regime troops and paramilitaries. A total of 2,004 documented deaths were broken down into regime troops (961), paramilitary groups (937), Hezbollah (28) and Shiite militias (78).
The regime is believed to have suffered several hundred fatalities in the ranks of military personnel and civilians at the Shaar gas field in rural Homs and the Division 17 facility in Raqqa province. During the several days of clashes, pro-regime social media criticized the authorities for failing to report the losses as anxious family members sought news about what was taking place.
On the ground, the Observatory and activist groups claimed that a warplane was downed by rebels in the Qalamoun region bordering Lebanon, although video footage posted on the Internet appeared inconclusive as to whether the craft was merely damaged in the incident.
The Observatory said it was unclear whether the plane was shot down or suffered a technical problem, while the Sham News Network, an anti-regime news outlet, said the pilot had ejected from the craft.
The Sham News Network added that rebels in Qalamoun had managed to capture a regime vehicle and disable a tank in fighting in the region.
The regime claimed victory in Qalamoun earlier this year when the town of Yabroud was recaptured, but its forces, backed by fighters from Lebanon’s Hezbollah, have been skirmishing with rebels periodically in several parts of the mountainous region in the past few months.
Syria’s state news agency SANA said army troops “targeted terrorists” in various parts of the country but did not elaborate in most of its reporting and refrained from mentioning the government’s casualties.
In Aleppo, a coalition of several Islamist militias seized territory during fierce clashes with army troops and paramilitaries near the Dahiet al-Assad suburb and the city’s Military Academy, the Observatory said. The rebels, who also disabled regime tanks, posted video footage of themselves inside a historic Turkish bath in sight of the Citadel of Aleppo, which is controlled by the regime, and was seized Thursday. At least five rebels were killed in the clashes, the Observatory said.
The rebels have suffered setbacks in several areas near the city this year, but this week pledged to mount a new offensive to reverse the losses.
Separately, a “security official” with the Islamic Front coalition of militias was killed in a barrel bomb attack on the neighborhood of Qadi Askar, the Observatory added.
In the Damascus neighborhood of Jobar, pro-opposition media said a coalition of Islamist rebel groups killed up to 30 regime troops when they tried to storm the area.
The rebels claimed that they had the ID papers of 17 of the dead, and a pro-regime website was obliged to deny rumors that authorities had ordered residents of the nearby Abbasiyyin neighborhood to evacuate their homes due to the deteriorating security situation in the area.
Meanwhile, ISIS militants have withdrawn from several villages dominated by a tribe in eastern Deir al-Zor province after clashes, the Observatory said. It said the extremist group had withdrawn from Abu Hamam, Kashkieh and Ghranij, three villages dominated by the Sheaitat tribe in Deir al-Zor.
The group said members of the tribe set fire to a headquarters belonging to ISIS in a fourth village and there were reports that the jihadists had withdrawn from a fifth village in the area. Fighting between members of the tribe and jihadists began Wednesday, with tribal members tweeting about an “uprising” against ISIS.
The Observatory said nine ISIS fighters had been killed in the clashes, and that the jihadist group was rallying forces from across the border in Iraq to send in as reinforcements.