Syrian sources: Israel is actively assisting rebel forces in the Qalamoun Mountains.
Last week, Western Journalism reported that the Assad regime in Syria was in trouble after a series of significant setbacks that seemed to be difficult to reverse. We also reported that Assad had announced that his troops would be redeployed in western and northern Syria to save vital areas from falling into the hands of an Islamist coalition led by the al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra.
Since then, a series of developments has made the situation in Syria even more complex.
It has also become clear that – as we predicted earlier – Iran and Hezbollah have again intervened in order to save the Assad regime.
First, Arab media reported over the weekend that Assad forces indeed redeployed in western Syria and started an assault on the strategically important town of Jisr al-Shughur that had been taken over recently by rebel forces. Assad’s forces received significant assistance from Iran’s al-Quds Force, Afghan militias, and Hezbollah.
An important objective of the counter-offensive is a besieged hospital near Jisr al-Shughur in which more than 250 Syrian soldiers are reportedly trapped. The hospital is in the southwestern part of the town and is the focal point of battles between regime forces and the rebel coalition.
In the video below you can watch how Islamist rebels blew up a vehicle filled with explosives in the vicinity of the hospital.
Media outlets associated with Assad’s regime later claimed that regime forces have made gains in the area. Syrian television reported on Sunday that the army has gained control over all the main routes into the city.
At the same time, Hezbollah launched a counter-offensive in the Qalamoun Mountains in western Syria close to the border with Lebanon. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that heavy fighting took place in the mountains near Nahle, Ras al-Maara, and Al-Jubbah. Hezbollah together with regime forces and the Iranian al-Quds Brigade succeeded in recapturing large areas in the Qalamoun Mountains, according to Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV.
The station reported that three al-Nusra training camps were destroyed and 20 al-Nusra fighters had been killed. The rebel coalition led by al-Nusra reported that 18 Hezbollah fighters died in the battle and that it would now launch a war of attrition against Hezbollah. Lebanese analysts fear the fighting will spill over to Lebanon and will threaten the status quo in the country.
Lebanese sources reported that Hezbollah’s special operations commander, Margan Mugniyeh, was among the Hezbollah fighters who had been killed by the al-Nusra coalition.
The same sources said Hezbollah had now secured an important route linking the mountains with Lebanon and the organization had proceeded to transfer long-range missiles from Syria to Lebanon.
Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said Hezbollah’s operations in the Qalamoun area should be considered “a battle with slow advances, not a big military operation.”
At the same time, it has become clear that Hezbollah has a severe shortage of manpower. The organization has lost more than one thousand members since in intervened in the Syrian civil war. Hezbollah is now recruiting heavily from various parts of Lebanon.
The group even recruits teenagers and non-Shiite fighters such as Druze and Christians who are encouraged to become jihadists.
The Israeli news site Ynet reported on Monday that sources associated with the Syrian regime had suggested Israel is actively assisting rebel forces in the Qalamoun Mountains:
Sources associated with the Syrian regime released photographs on the weekend of weapons bearing Hebrew writing and supposedly found in the area during battles.
They further claimed that Israeli airplanes had dropped supplies and ammunition in the border region between Syria and Lebanon. Hezbollah and Assad’s regime have long made similar claims about Israel’s alleged assistance to rebels fighting the government.
This reporter can confirm that there has been unusual activity by the Israeli Air Force in the area close to the Syrian border over the last week.
Meanwhile, the Lebanese news site NOW reported another stunning development in Syria. The al-Nusra-led rebel coalition declared war on the Islamic State on Monday.
The coalition issued a statement in Arabic that “a decision has been taken by the factions working on the ground to uproot this ruinous group, as there is no longer any other choice.”
The coalition published a list of Islamic State offenses that led to the decision, including “harboring of corrupters,” confiscation of weapons from opposition fighters, attacks against rebel battalions, terrorizing of “the Muslims,” and dismissing the authority of rebel sharia courts.
The Lebanese paper As-Safir reported today that Jabhat al-Nusra has started an “intense campaign of arrests” against Islamic State bases and checkpoints. Approximately 47 Islamic State fighters were detained, including a prominent commander.
As-Safir reported the Islamic State and the Nusra coalition were engaged in “wide clashes” not limited to western Qalamoun, but including other regions as well.
A spokesman for al-Nusra told As-Safir that “the fighting will continue until all IS members are eradicated or declare their repentance and turn themselves in, so that ‘Hudud’ (Islamic punishment) can be implemented.”