Members of al-Qaida's Nusra Front [File].
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Syrian Army bombing in the mountainous area along the border with Lebanon killed dozens of insurgents and helped regain hilly territory overlooking Hezbollah strongholds, the Lebanese terrorist group said on Thursday.
For years, hideouts in the Qalamoun Mountains have allowed al-Qaida-linked insurgents attack Syrian soldiers and fighters from Hezbollah, a staunch ally of President Bashar Assad, along miles of borderland in eastern Lebanon.
The Syrian military, backed by Hezbollah fighters, captured the strategically important territory known as Assal al-Ward on the Syrian side of the border, after retaking the Qarna Heights, a Hezbollah official told Reuters, both in the 100-km. Qalamoun range.
Some insurgents were from al-Qaida’s Nusra Front, he said.
Hezbollah and Assad’s forces are suffering from a manpower shortage, with reports that Hezbollah has resorted to recruiting minors as young as eight years old.
Hezbollah changed its tactics early Thursday morning and attacked the rebels from behind, and after initial success, the rebels were able to adjust and kill dozens of Hezbollah fighters, according to a Western-backed Free Syrian Army commander in touch with Mendi Safadi, an Israeli Druse who served as former Likud deputy minister Ayoub Kara’s chief of staff.
Safadi has independently met with members of the liberal and democratic Syrian opposition who oppose the Islamists and want friendly relations with Israel. He has relayed messages from them to the Prime Minister’s Office.
The commander, who goes by the nom de guerre Abu al-Harth, communicated to Safadi that FSA is fighting together with the Nusra Front because there is no other option. FSA has more numbers, but the Nusra Front has better weapons, explained Safadi.
Likud MK Ayoub Kara said that every attempt to hit Israeli security by Hezbollah would motivate it to seek “to eliminate Hezbollah and clean the region from this Iranian poison that tries to rule over the Middle East.”
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah vowed on Tuesday that his forces and Syrian allies would clear the rebels out of the border region north of Damascus that insurgents use as a main supply route for arms and fighters.
Although he did not disclose when his fighters would start a major assault in the Qalamoun area, his group said on Wednesday that its fighters had hit a gathering of militants on the Syrian side of the border, inflicting heavy casualties.
Lebanese officials have warned Iran-backed Hezbollah against launching a major cross-border attack, which they say would drag Lebanon, which suffered a civil war from 1975 to 1990, further into the yearslong Syrian conflict.
On Wednesday, Hezbollah said its fighters had retaken part of a hilltop in Lebanon’s eastern border area known as Kherbat al-Nahla overlooking the Syrian side of Qalamoun.
But rebel group Jaish al-Fatah Qalamoun said on social media sites they had repelled the assault, which Hezbollah has been rumored to have been planning for months.
In Syria, the army continued an offensive across rebel-held parts of the northwestern province of Idlib to regain significant amounts of ground lost in recent weeks.
The Syrian Air Force intensified raids near a hospital on the outskirts of rebel-held Jisr al-Shughour where a number of Syrian troops have been holed up since insurgents captured the town last month. The raids prevented insurgents from making advances into the rich agricultural province by the Turkish border.
By taking Jisr al-Shughour, the rebels have edged closer to the coastal province of Latakia, one of the main government-held strongholds, and are now less than 8 km. from pro-government villages near the sea.