* Syrian government forces continue to pound the town of Yabroud in the Qalamoun mountain range with heavy artillery fire and mortar shelling Monday, targeting rebel checkpoints around its Battalion 18 military base, reported pro-opposition Smart News. Syrian government troops and Hezbollah forces began an assault on the rebel-held town Tuesday February 11th, nearly two months after regime forces strengthened its control over the Homs–Damascus highway. The regime offensive witnessed its forces seizing a string of towns in Qalamoun and left Yabroud, 75 kilometers north of Damascus, as the last major rebel-held town in the region. The renewed violence has triggered a stream of displacement as thousands of civilians pour into the Lebanese town of Arsal, 30 kilometers from Yabroud. Pro-government newspaper al-Watan reported the Syrian army had destroyed six cars full of “terrorist” ammunition in Yabroud, as well as six ammunitions-filled cars arriving in Yabroud from Arsal.
A Jabhat a-Nusra combatant in Yabroud. Photo courtesy of @Ansaar_Ghbat
* General Salim Idris was dismissed from his position as Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) Sunday, in a surprising announcement from FSA’s Supreme Military Council. General Dr. Abdullah al-Bashir will succeed General Idris, who had been the public face of the Western-backed rebel group based on the Syrian-Turkish border. The FSA’s Chiefs of Staff, once widely considered the most powerful rebel group in Syria, have seen their influence decline with the rise of more powerful Islamist groups such as the Islamic Front. General Idris was dismissed the day after Syrian National Coalition President Ahmad Jarba announced he had visited rebels from the Syrian Revolutionaries Front in Idlib province Saturday.
* Hassan Nasrallah, the General Secretary of Hezbollah, announced Sunday that the movement would keep its troops in Syria, noting that most nations who had funded, armed and supported “terrorists” in Syria had begun to fear those terrorists returning to their home nation. “The dangers of takfiris threaten all of the Lebanese people, and therefore we are concerned with combatting this menace,” he said. Hezbollah’s troops in Syria are concentrated in Homs, Damascus and in the Qalamoun mountain range that forms the border between Syria and Lebanon, where rebel groups in the town of Yabroud announced they had killed 27 regime and Hezbollah soldiers Sunday. Pro-rebel Sunni militia groups have labeled a series of car bombings in Lebanon as “retaliatory measures” for Hezbollah’s presence in Syria.
* The Islamic Front’s Ahrar a-Sham mediated an agreement between Jaish al-Muhajireen, a formerly ISIS-affiliated group comprised of non-Syrians, and Free Syrian Army affiliated Liwa Shouhada’ Badr Sunday that will cease hostilities between the groups in the northern Aleppo towns of Hretan and al-Mallah. The ceasefire will also include a prisoner exchange, as both sides commit themselves to “providing all forms of support and backing each other in the jihad against the regime.”
* Ten Syrian gunmen opened fire on guards patrolling an isolated part of the Jordanian border with Syria late Saturday night, Jordanian newspaper al-Ghad quoted a Jordanian army spokesperson as saying Sunday. The spokesperson told al-Ghad that Jordanian forces had returned fire, killing one and wounding and arresting three, while Saudi news channel Al Arabiya claimed Jordanian forces had wounded 5 and arrested three. This is the first time Jordan publicly reported an armed attack from Syria, Al Arabiya reported, adding the incident occurred in an isolated area “not used by Syrian refugees” fleeing to Jordan.
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