Syrian army fights rebels in key Damascus hills

The Syrian army launched an attack after some 2,000 rebel fighters withdrew to the Qalamoun mountains to launch a guerrilla offensive

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Syrian troops backed by fighters from Lebanon’s Hezbollah on Sunday launched an assault to oust rebels from the foothills of the Qalamoun mountains north of the capital, Agence France-Presse reported state television as saying.

Regime forces took parts of the strategic Qalamoun region near the border with Lebanon in April, but some 2,000 rebel fighters withdrew to the hills, from where they have launched guerrilla attacks.

Fourteen fighters from the powerful Shiite Hezbollah group have been killed in the area over the past two weeks, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Syria’s state broadcaster showed footage of the troops, saying they had taken “some hills overlooking the Rankus plain and are pursuing terrorist groups who tried to infiltrate the region from Lebanon=.”

An officer interviewed by the channel said “the army has cut the route off to terrorist groups who try to return to the region from time to time. The operation is continuing until the whole of the Qalamoun area has been cleansed.

“This land will be a cemetery for all terrorists who decide to return.”

President Bashar al-Assad’s regime refers to the armed opposition inside the country as “terrorists,” without distinguishing between different groups.

Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said that “rebels hiding in the heights and in caves have been attacking army and Hezbollah positions for weeks after being pushed out of the region, which also prompted regime forces to withdraw.”

Recently, U.S. President Barack Obama said Washington arming moderate Syrian rebels wouldn’t have necessarily led to their victory in an interview with CBS.

“I think this notion that somehow there was this ready-made moderate Syrian force that was able to defeat [Syrian President Bashar] Assad is simply not true, and, you know, we have spent a lot of time trying to work with a moderate opposition in Syria,” Obama said in the interview taped Friday.

The rise of radical Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was due to a security vacuum and regardless if the United States decided to back up moderate rebel forces.

ISIS jihadists executed three officers of the Western and Arab-backed rebel Free Syrian Army, AFP reported a monitor as saying on Saturday.

The bullet-riddled bodies of the three were found on Friday, two days after suspected Islamist militants kidnapped them in the oil-rich eastern province of Deir Ezzor, the Observatory reported.

Lack of proper funding is hurting FSA. In mid-June, top nine FSA officers resigned over shortages and mismanagement of military aid from donor countries.

(With AFP)