Syrian army resumes offensive on Yabroud

Syrian army resumes offensive on Yabroud
Wed Mar 5, 2014 07:54:56

Syrian government troops are tightening their grip on the last militant stronghold near the border with Lebanon after taking control of a key village in the area, a field commander has told reporters.

Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have seized a string of towns and villages in the rugged Qalamoun region along the Lebanese border since launching an offensive there in November.

Backed by fighters from Hezbollah, the army seized the village of Sahel this week and is closing in on Yabroud, the largest town in the mountainous region still in rebel hands.

The campaign aims to sever the rebel supply routes from nearby Lebanon and shore up its hold on the main north-south highway that runs through the area.

During a government-led tour of Sahel, a Syrian commander told reporters that troops ousted opposition fighters from the village Monday, bringing down the militants’ “first line of defense” around Yabroud.

Hezbollah fighters have played a significant role in the government push. The Lebanese party is eager to clear the border area of the overwhelmingly terrorist groups trying to topple the Syrian government. Hezbollah says several cars used in recent bombings targeting predominantly Shia neighborhoods of south Beirut have been rigged in Yabroud.

Al-Qaeda-linked groups have claimed responsibility for several of the attacks in Lebanon, saying they were retaliation for Hezbollah’s military support for the Syrian government.

Opposition groups said fighting was raging Tuesday on the edge of Yabroud, with government helicopters dropping barrel bombs on the town’s outskirts.
Syria’s state news agency reported heavy fighting around Yabroud. It said the army destroyed a car fitted with a machine gun and killed fighters from the Nusra Front and other terrorist groups.

The Syrian field commander said the army was determined to clear the area by launching a final assault from Sahel. He said “morale was high among the troops as they fulfill their mission” to capture Yabroud.

Sahel was deserted as the government troops escorted reporters along. There was damage on several houses and a mosque, apparently from fighting, and telephone and electricity cables were torn from poles and strewn on sidewalks.

At least one body could be seen on the ground.

“It was a real battle and we didn’t give the gunmen any chance to negotiate,” the commander said.

He said the troops detained more than 30 militants after capturing the village.

Many of those captured were Syrians, the commander said, although there were also foreign fighters who had traveled to Syria from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Lebanon to battle government troops.


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