The LEVANT NEWS — BEIRUT: Hezbollah and the Syrian army closed in on Syrian rebel factions Monday in central Zabadani as they advanced cautiously to take control of the last rebel-held town in the Qalamoun region near the Lebanese border.
“Gunmen are trapped in central Zabadani,” a source close to Hezbollah told The Daily Star.
Hezbollah fighters backed by Syrian troops locked in on militants from all sides. “They are under fire,” the source said.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, revealed that two Hezbollah fighters were killed in Sunday’s clashes, raising the death toll to four. At least three Syrian army soldiers have also been killed in the battle, the source said.
“Fighters will gradually crush them (rebels),” the source said, pointing out that Hezbollah is keen to avoid the fall of more fighters in the battle.
A separate security source said the Al-Jamaiyat neighborhood in western Zabadani witnessed heavy clashes overnight Monday as Syrian army hit rebel posts with four barrel bombs.
Hezbollah and the Syrian army’s offensive in Zabadani is largely considered an attempt by the two allies to bolster their control of land routes between Lebanon and Syria and cut rebel supply lines.
Zabadani also bears strategic significance for Hezbollah since it once served as a logistical hub for supplying the party with Iranian weapons. It also served as a base for Hezbollah fighters and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
Battles Sunday, which broke through four axes in Zabadani, inflicted heavy casualties on the militants.
The capture of the town would add to Hezbollah’s recent major field victories, which saw the party take large swaths of the Qalamoun hills since its offensive, backed by the Syrian army, began in the region last May.
The decision to launch the offensive in Zabadani came after negotiations with rebels failed to secure the militants’ withdrawal from the area, which is located 50 kilometers northwest of Damascus and 12 kilometers northeast of Lebanon’s Masnaa border crossing.
SOURCE: The Daily Star