Rebels move against
Hezbollah in Qalamoun

Al-Nusra Front launched a preemptive military campaign along Lebanon's border.

A pro-regime fighter aims a rocket launcher. (AFP/Sam Skaine)

BEIRUT – Rebels have launched a preemptive military campaign against Hezbollah in Qalamoun amid a flurry of reports that the Shiite party was about to begin its own operations in the mountainous region along Lebanon’s border.  


“Fierce clashes raged from Monday morning between Hezbollah, regime and National Defense Force troops on one side and Islamist battalions, including the Al-Nusra Front, on the other in Qalamoun,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Monday.


“Nusra has targeted Hezbollah bases and troop concentrations in [the rebel’s] preemptive strike against Hezbollah, which is expected to launch its Qalamoun military operation in the coming days,” the monitoring group said.


It added that a number of surface-to-surface missiles had hit the area of the fighting.


The campaign comes as the rebel “Cling to the Rope of God Gathering” announced Monday morning that it had launched a wide-scale offensive against Hezbollah in Qalamoun.


“Our mujahedeen in the Qalamoun mountains have launched a wide-ranging attack on positions belonging to the terrorist Hezbollah and the Syrian regime’s militia,” the rebel alliance announced via a Facebook post.


“Heavy losses in equipment and lives have been inflicted on Hezbollah’s militias, and a number of positions on the outskirts of villages in western Qalamoun have been destroyed,” it added.


“Clashes are still ongoing now amid artillery and aerial bombardment by the Syrian regime and Shiite militias stationed in the villages of Nahle and Brital.”


The rebel grouping announced its formation in April 29, bringing together the Liwa al-Ghuraba, Omari Sword Brigade, Eagles of Damascus Brigade and Men of Qalamoun rebel factions based in the area.


On Sunday, Alaraby Aljadeed reported that the Cling to the Rope of God Gathering, Al-Nusra, the FSA-affiliated Army of Qalamoun and Ahrar al-Sham had all agreed to create a unified “Jaysh al-Fatah” (Army of Conquest) for Qalamoun in a bid to mirror the successful rebel coalition operating in the Idlib province.


The London-based daily added that the Qalamoun-based rebels possess caches of advanced anti-tank weapons, including Russian Kornet and Konkurs, French MILAN, and US TOW guided missiles.


Nusra, for its part, late last week published a series of photos from the Qalamoun showing a number of its fighters conducting training exercises with advanced anti-armor weapons.


Reports have emerged in recent days that Hezbollah will soon launch its widely-expected Qalamoun campaign in an effort to secure the remote mountainous terrain that forms Lebanon’s eastern border with Syria.


Al-Hayat on Sunday quoted Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who leads the Hezbollah-allied Amal Party, as saying that the Qalamoun battle would begin “very soon.”


Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah is slated to deliver a televised address on Tuesday evening.


On Monday morning, pro-Hezbollah newspaper Al-Akhbar published a report stating that the party has drawn up an “airtight plan [for Qalamoun] and a large number of [troops have been gathered] compared to the previous battles Hezbollah entered on Syrian territory.”


Sources told the paper that, with regard to the amount of preparatory firepower available for any infantry attack, “in terms of size, quality and precision [there will be] surprises.”


The sources added that “resistance staff command has familiarized itself with its enemy’s strong and weak points, and worked to adjust its firepower system to match the battle.”


“Since last summer, unmanned planes have gathered a large bank of information on militant targets. As for the caves, the resistance will bring back the experience of ‘volcano’ rockets, which the militants remember well, however this time in a new fortification-busting class.”


The paper also said that Hezbollah would use a type of bomb that is capable of penetrating caves and tunnels.


“The resistance did not suffice with [merely reiterating] its plan in its bases. It carried out a ‘call-up and readiness’ maneuver in front of everyone. […] What the resistance did was a message intended for three actors at the same time, and everyone understood it well.”


“To the Israelis: that the resistance is capable of opening multiple fronts at the same time; to reassure the resistance’s public; and to the militants: ‘the masses you are seeing are just a part of what is waiting for you’.”

A pro-regime fighter aims a rocket launcher. (AFP/Sam Skaine)

Nusra has targeted Hezbollah bases and troop concentrations in [the rebel’s] preemptive strike against Hezbollah.