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Qalamoun fighting rages on

Hezbollah has made new advances in the border region, seizing the mountains around Al-Jubbah.

Pro-regime troops in Qalamoun. (AFP/Sam Skaine)
A map of the Qalamoun region. (NOW)

BEIRUT – Heavy fighting has continued in Syria’s Qalamoun as Hezbollah presses its advances against rebels in the mountainous border region amid reports its Special Forces commander was killed.

 

“Since Sunday at midnight fierce clashes have raged between Lebanon’s Hezbollah supported by regime and NDF forces on one side, and Islamist factions and the Al-Nusra Front on the other in the mountainous terrain [between] Nahle, Ras al-Maara and Al-Jubbah,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Monday.

 

The Observatory added that it had received reports of “human losses in the ranks of both sides” amid Hezbollah advances in the area. 

 

Hezbollah’s Al-Manar said Monday that “Syrian army forces and the mujahedeen of the resistance have taken full control of the mountainous terrain around Al-Jubbah.”

 

The station elaborated that Hezbollah had seized “the Ard al-Maeesera area, all of the Maeesera Plain which was [being used as] a militant training camp and the Watiyah Plain.”

 

“Three training camps in the [area] where destroyed,” the station reported the day before, adding that 20 Nusra militants had been killed in the fighting.

 

“Additionally, dozens of positions in caves and military tents were destroyed. Many IEDs and mines were also defused at the location.”

 

Meanwhile, the Army of Conquest-Qalamoun announced Sunday on Twitter that it had killed “18 [Hezbollah] members trying to enter [Syria] from the direction of Lebanon’s Nahle.”

 

“Attrition is under way,” the rebel coalition added.

 

For its part, the Wa Atesemo rebel coalition, which fights under the Army of Conquest-Qalamoun umbrella, said that the leader of Hezbollah’s Special Operations unit was among dozens of party members killed since last week.

 

“Two days ago, as the Army of Conquest said via its Twitter account, the number of dead had reached around 60,” Zakaria al-Shami told Hawa Smart radio on Satuday.

 

“Yesterday and today the number of party members killed was not established because of [ongoing fighting] and the barrenness of the mountains,” he added.

 

“However, I will mention, that yesterday, Marwan Mughniyeh was killed, and he is the leader of the Hezbollah militia’s Special Operations [unit].”

 

Al-Shami said that Mughniyeh had been killed “in an ambush laid by our brothers in Assal al-Ward during […] the tactical withdrawal that took place [Friday].”

 

The latest Hezbollah advances come after the group seized a number of hills overlooking the regime-held town of Assal al-Ward late last week, with the Army of Conquest-Qalamoun claiming they had made a “tactical withdrawal” from the area.

 

According to a local media activist, Hezbollah’s seizure of the Assal al-Ward heights has allowed the party to set up a secure road linking the mountains around Tfail and Brital.

 

On Sunday, Taym al-Qalamouni said in a Facebook post that since establishing the new route “Hezbollah [has] proceeded to transfer long range missiles from Syria to Lebanon.”

 

The party has reportedly lost dozens of fighters, including two field commanders, in the fierce fighting which is expected to escalate as Hezbollah ramps up its preparations to launch a major military campaign in the region.

 

On Thursday, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP that Hezbollah’s operations to date could be considered “a battle with slow advances, not a big military operation.”

Hezbollah has pressed its advances in Qalamoun. (AFP/Sam Skaine)

Attrition is under way.”