Day 1,099: So much for that castle



Heather Horn

Yesterday a Syrian security official told AFP that the Syrian army was fighting for control of Krak des Chevaliers, a castle from the 12th and 13th centuries that, up until the present conflict, was considered one of the best-preserved of the Crusader castles. At the time of the statement, the official also said the Syrian army had taken two districts of al-Hosn, the surrounding village. Rebels had previously held both al-Hosn and the nearby town of al-Zara. The government operation to retake them began in late January. For a good look at the strategic importance of these two towns, according head over to The Independent: apparently pipelines and power supplies are involved.

The al-Hosn fight evidently went well for the government, because Al Jazeera, combining what appear to be a few different wire reports, reported this morning that 41 rebels wounded in the struggle had fled to Lebanon, another eight either “carried in dead or succumb[ing] to their wounds” shortly after crossing the border. Syrian state media says the government killed 11 trying to escape, and has now closed one of the nearby crossings into Lebanon.

The Syrian air force also bombarded a Damascus suburb yesterday, violating a truce from October, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Elsewhere in Damascus, the UN apparently “aborted an attempt to distribute food” at the Yarmouk refugee camp: UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said the Palestinian refugees were so desperate for food (food distribution had only resumed Tuesday after a two-week suspension) that “chaotic scenes rendered safe distribution impossible.”

Victories on the rebel side yesterday included the seizing of the Gharaz Central Prison in Daraa, the town where this whole conflict started. Rebel forces freed the prison’s inmates.

The good news is that “more than 45 percent” of Syria’s chemical stockpile has now been removed from the country. But there’s some soul-searching going on in Germany, as the Süddeutsche Zeitung reported Wednesday that German firms in fact played a much larger role than previously thought in creating that stockpile—essentially selling Assad the tools to produce sarin. Readers of German, head here for the details. Others, head here: Haaretz has a good writeup.

Finally, for a discussion of how the situation in Ukraine will affect attempts to broker a deal in Syria, head on over to The New York Times. The worry is that the new tension between Russia and the West is going to make this all much harder.