BEIRUT – Reports have emerged that ISIS has launched operations against Hezbollah near Qusayr, a strategic Syrian town near Lebanon’s northern border that the Shiite group seized in mid-2013.
Sky News Arabia reported Tuesday that intense clashes had raged for the previous two days between ISIS and Hezbollah in the Naimat hills area near the city of Qusayr. The station added that both sides had used a wide range of weapons, including heavy armaments.
Meanwhile, a local media activist told Alaraby Aljadeed late Tuesday that ISIS had seized control of the Naimat hills, adding that members of the extremist group “blew up a regime tank… killing all of its crew.”
The London-based daily also cited the ISIS-affiliated Amaq news outlet as claiming that members of the extremist group had “managed to seize control of the Naimat hills near the city of Qusayr in the southern countryside of Homs.”
“The [victory] comes after fierce clashes with Hezbollah militants that left dozens of them dead,” the quoted Amaq report said.
Although Alaraby Aljadeed and the opposition Shaam News Network both cited the purported report, it was not carried by the ISIS-affiliated outlet on its official Twitter account.
A number of pro-opposition Syrian outlets ran similar accounts of the fighting in the Naimat Hills, which Hezbollah-affiliated media outlets denied had happened.
“There is no truth to what certain media outlets have circulated about ISIS militants controlling the Naimat Hills adjacent to the town of Qusayr in the countryside of Homs,” Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television claimed Wednesday.
The Mulhak online news outlet—which supports Hezbollah—in turn said that “there is no truth to what certain websites and pages have circulated about clashes on the outskirts of Qusayr in the countryside of Homs.”
According to the source, “an armed group was caught in a well-planned ambush by the Syrian army and Hezbollah near the Naimat hills, which lie over six kilometers away from Qusayr.”
“All of the group’s eight militants were killed.”
Naimat hills importance
The Naimat hills located near Lebanon’s border with Syria occupy an important military position outside Qusayr, which itself was considered a strategic gateway for rebel arms before Hezbollah took the town in 2013.
“The eastern part of the elevated location is triangular in shape and is controlled by Hezbollah. It is in this area that most of the clashes have taken place,” according to a report published by Syria Mubasher news.
“The Lebanese Armed Forces are based to the west [inside Lebanon]. Members of ISIS are based to the south.”
“The area’s importance lies in the fact that it is the first point of contact in the direction of the city of Qusayr,” the pro-opposition media outlet added.
“Furthermore, the area contains many fortified Hezbollah, Syrian army and LAF checkpoints.”
ISIS gearing up for Homs attack?
A pro-rebel Syrian news outlet on Wednesday published a report on the purported Naimat hills fighting that included an analysis on ISIS’ position in the region south of Homs.
“Several months ago, ISIS took control of a number of border villages in south Homs province near the village of Qusayr using unknown means,” All4Syria news claimed, without elaborating further on ISIS’ alleged campaign in the region.
“Everyone expected an open war between Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia and ISIS forces, but several months passed without even a stone being thrown between the two sides.”
All4Syria further claimed that ISIS has “tried to play on the emotions of Homs residents, who have become frustrated after making repeated calls for the formation of an ‘Army of Conquest’ in Homs.”
“This has given the group a winning card [that it can use] to draw attention towards itself and build a support base to help it penetrate areas of Homs that opposition forces have been unable to for many years.”