Rebels struggle to hold ground in Qalamoun


March 20, 2014

COMPETING FOR QALAMOUN: The Islamic Front’s Jaish al-Islam and Ahrar a-Sham, as well as the a-Rahman Legion, vowed to confront government and Hezbollah troops in eastern Qalamoun, in a video published online Thursday. Since seizing control of the town of Yabroud Sunday, Syrian forces north of Damascus, have been methodically advancing in the few remaining rebel-held towns and villages in the Qalamoun Mountains on Syria’s border with Lebanon.

In the video, six armed men dressed in fatigues recount their assault on the regime’s Liwa 559 base, the largest warehouse of Syrian army vehicles in eastern Qalamoun.

“We have attacked the regime’s supply line to Yabroud,” asserts one fighter, his voice gravelly. “We have killed a number of regime forces and seized two tanks and anti-air missiles.”

On Thursday Syrian forces targeted Rankus, Ras al-Ain, Ras al-Ma’are and other villages between Yabroud and Syria’s western border with Lebanon, shelling the towns with artillery fire and dropping barrel bombs, according to the pro-opposition Qalamoun Media Center.

Government troops are facing off against Jabhat a-Nusra, Free Syrian Army-affiliated groups, the Islamic Front and other rebel battalions.

Pro-government newspaper al-Watan reported Wednesday that in “completing its military operations in Qalamoun,” the Syrian army had advanced quickly in both eastern and western Ras al-Ein, southwest of Yabroud.

Hezbollah channel al-Manar, government troops uncovered a rebel weapons factory in Ras al-Ein, where they report car bombs were produced.

On Sunday, Syrian troops gained control of Yabroud, seventy kilometers north of Damascus, after thirty-three days of intense fighting. The government campaign in the Qalamoun Mountains, which overlook the M-5 highway between Homs and Damascus, began when Syrian troops seized a string of three towns – Qara, Deir Attiyeh and Nabek – in late November and early December 2013.

By Osama Abu Zeid and Elizabeth Parker-Magyar on March 20, 2014

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