DAMASCUS, Syria – Multiple sources within Syrian rebel brigades have reported that more than 70 Hezbollah militants and Syrian army personnel were recently killed in a single night operation. According to these sources, the pro-regime forces were “liquidated in their tents in surprise carnage, leaving none of them the chance to get out of bed or defend himself.”
The Syrian rebel sources insisted to NOW that Hezbollah has lost in Yabroud. “Military pressure on Hezbollah is increasing,” they said. “It has retreated from the Sahl front and is unable to achieve any breakthroughs on the Rima front. News has been coming in about Hezbollah suffering from as many as 300 killed and hundreds wounded in clashes with the [Free] Syrian Army.”
One FSA fighter told NOW that regime army units fighting alongside Hezbollah and Iraqi Shiite brigades had recently unified under a single aegis known as the “Assad ISIS Brigades” and are fighting on the Quneitra and Qalamoun fronts. However, pro-Assad Druze have refused to fight in Qalamoun since the battle started, and had returned to their regions in Jermana and the Tadamoun camp to the south of Damascus.
A rebel activist in Qalamoun said that the rebels on the Rima front have gone on the offensive over the past couple of days and took control of the “Flag” hill, which is adjacent to the Homs-Damascus highway from the Rima Farms side. They inflicted casualties of 70 Lebanese and Iraqi fighters on the pro-Assad camp, gaining control of a sector previously held by Hezbollah and burning the tents the Party had erected.
In retaliation against the latest rebel operations, regime helicopters shelled cars driven by those displaced along the road from Yabroud to Arsal, causing heavy civilian losses. “We are still unable to evacuate the bodies of displaced martyrs due to the shelling of cars,” said an FSA source in Fleeta. “Helicopters are still hovering in the area and we do not have any anti-aircraft guns to deal with them.”
Residential areas away from the front in several Qalamoun villages and cities are being pounded by regime artillery and rocket launchers, on top of the air raids that have hit them constantly since the start of the battle. The shelling and raids are targeting residential buildings, mosques, and churches. Only a few hundred families remain in Yabroud following the major wave of displacements, with most of the displaced bound for the Lebanese town of Arsal. All utility services, including water, electricity, and telecommunications, have been destroyed, and the siege has wiped out basic amenities such as food, water, and heating resources in a barren region already confronted with an unusually harsh winter.
Sources in the Syrian capital reported that Bashar al-Assad recently met with the national and municipal leadership of the ruling Baath party. During the meeting, he stressed Damascus’ utmost importance as the country’s capital and the need to secure it using all available military and security force, arguing that it is the heart of the state whose fall would be tantamount to conclusive defeat. According to these sources, the regime is working on reconcentrating its troops in and around the capital. This might be a prelude to cooling down the Qalamoun front in return for an increased presence of regime troops and their allied militias to the south and west of Damascus in anticipation of mounting pressure to “take action on the southern front” based from Daraa and Quneitra.
In this context, an activist in Al-Qutayfah told NOW that the regime recalled some of its troops positioned to the north of Damascus, thus bringing a “third brigade” into the capital. A convoy of 30 pickup trucks transporting Hezbollah soldiers vacated Party-held positions on the Qalamoun front and retreated towards Abadiyeh in Lebanon. This may indicate a potential Hezbollah repositioning in Syria in order to reduce its participation specifically on the Qalamoun front and expand it in other areas to the south and in the immediate vicinity of Damascus.
This article was translated from the original Arabic.