Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Syria’s army made big advances against insurgents in mountains north of Damascus on Wednesday, Hezbollah and Syrian state media said, shoring up President Bashar al-Assad's grip on the border zone.
The gains in the crucial Qalamoun region close to Lebanon against groups including the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front follow significant defeats for Assad elsewhere, notably in Syria’s northwest near the Turkish border.
Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed Shiite group with a powerful militia, has been a vital ally for Assad in the four-year-long conflict that has become a focal point for the struggle between Tehran and Sunni Saudi Arabia, which has backed the insurgency.
Hezbollah fighters and the army seized Talat Moussa, the highest peak in the area targeted in the offensive. Sources briefed on the situation said that move had effectively secured control of the entire area some 50 km (30 miles) from Damascus.
“Now only the final stage of the operation is left,” one of the sources said.
Syrian state TV credited the advance to the army and “the Lebanese resistance,” an unusual public acknowledgement of Hezbollah’s role in the battle for an area used by the insurgents to ferry supplies between Syria and Lebanon.
It also said that the army was pursuing the remnants of the insurgents in the town of Fleita.
Hezbollah has unleashed heavy firepower in the offensive, including concentrated rocket bombardments. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based group that tracks the conflict, says this had forced many insurgents to withdraw.
The offensive had been expected for some time but was awaiting the end of winter and aimed to crush one of the risks facing Assad, who has lost much of the north and east in the war estimated by the United Nations to have killed 220,000 people.
The Observatory put the death toll in the fighting at dozens on both sides. A source briefed on the situation said Hezbollah had lost four fighters.
نستخدم ملفات الكوكيز لنسهل عليك استخدام مواقعنا الإلكترونية ونكيف المحتوى والإعلانات وفقا لمتطلباتك واحتياجاتك الخاصة، لتوفير ميزات وسائل التواصل الاجتماعية ولتحليل حركة المرور لدينا...اعرف أكثر