March 17, 2015
By Osama Abu Zeid and Dan Wilkofsky
AMMAN: The Islamic State has been building up its presence in the western Qalamoun Mountains considerably over the past several months, provoking fears it intends to launch attacks on Lebanon.
IS members in western Qalamoun, north of Damascus on the Syrian-Lebanese border, “now number in the hundreds,” with some fighters undergoing training in special camps, a local citizen journalist who wished to remain anonymous told Syria Direct.
“We see that the purpose of their camps there, and their training fighters, and bringing in reinforcements is because they are trying to enter Lebanon…in the future, from the western Qalamoun Mountains,” another local citizen journalist who preferred anonymity told Syria Direct Tuesday.
While IS does not appear to be currently participating in any military operations in western Qalamoun, the journalist’s comment reflects fears on the ground that an incursion into Lebanon is imminent.
Islamic State fighters in Qalamoun. Photo courtesy of .
This past January, the head of Lebanon’s Directorate of General Security Abbas Ibrahim publicly said that IS is building up its forces in the Qalamoun Mountains with the eventual aim of taking control of nearby Lebanese villages, a move aimed at bolstering IS positions in Syria.
The Islamic State Wilayat Dimashq Media Center reportedly released a recording in January, which has since been removed from social media websites, describing recent battles in Lebanese village of Ras Balbek as “the beginning of a total invasion that will liberate Lebanon,” reported the Lebanese Center for Research and Consulting January 28.
In the latest indication of Islamic State designs on western Qalamoun, Jaish Usud a-Sharqia, an overt enemy of IS, led an attack on IS forces over the weekend in the far eastern Qalamoun mountains “as IS was moving its columns from the eastern to western Qalamoun mountains,” a third local citizen journalist told Syria Direct.
The rebels captured “all the headquarters of the dogs of hell” in the area, Jaish Usud a-Sharqia tweeted on Sunday.
Rebels also managed to capture seven IS fighters, including Abu Haidara a-Tunisi, an IS leader in Qalamoun reportedly responsible for decapitating a Jaish al-Islam fighter earlier this month after refusing to allow the man to pray, reported pro-opposition All4Syria.
IS fighters who escaped the weekend attack reportedly fled towards Wadi a-Rahiba in the southeast Qalamoun region. Pro-opposition Syria Mubasher confirmed Sunday that a group of IS fighters had fled the battle.
As part of their plan to build up a powerful base in the Qalamoun, IS asked rebels in the area to pledge allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in December 2014, reported pro-opposition All4syria that same month.
In late January, an FSA-affiliated fighter in Qalamoun told Syria Direct that the local rebels IS was courting were underfed, under equipped, and dissatisfied with leadership.
Fighters of one battalion “had to sell their weapons to buy food,” said the fighter.
“If you gave such fighters the opportunity to join IS and attract them with power and money, don’t you think they would accept?”
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