THE LEVANT NEWS —  BEIRUT: Hezbollah and the Syrian army, who have mounted a major offensive in a key city near Lebanon, issued an ultimatum to Syrian rebel factions to either surrender or die, a source close to Hezbollah told The Daily Star Sunday.

The allied forces maintained slow but steady progress in the Syrian city of Zabadani, which is located eight kilometers from Lebanon’s eastern border.

The rebels, who have been trapped in the city since their escape routes were cut off on July 4, were left with only two choices: either laying down their arms and surrendering or be killed, the source said.

Hezbollah and the Syrian army launched the offensive to retake the town earlier this month, hoping to bolster their control of land routes between Lebanon and Syria.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, revealed that Hezbollah’s overall death toll now stands at 12, while at least 16 Syrian army soldiers and 200 militants have been killed in the battle.

Hezbollah and Syrian troops also managed to capture around 43 rebels, the source added.

Contacts are reportedly underway with a group of rebels to surrender to the advancing forces, but no agreement has been reached.

Meanwhile, Hezbollah and the Syrian army Sunday launched a “special operation” that targeted a Nusra Front base in the village of Bloudan, overlooking Zabadani, according to a report by the party’s Al-Manar TV.

The attack left an unknown number of militants dead or wounded and destroyed a Nusra Front tank and an armored vehicle, the report said.

The allied forces also advanced south of Zabadani after militants withdrew from the area. The latest push left scores of rebels either dead or wounded, according to Al-Manar.

Syrian government forces and their Lebanese allies also continued to advance west of Zabadani after capturing a position in the area.

The capture of the largest Qalamoun city would add to Hezbollah’s recent victories in Lebanon’s eastern mountain range since launching a wider offensive to oust militants from the border region in early May.

Zabadani is located on the southern end of Qalamoun, about 50 kilometers northwest of Damascus and 12 kilometers northeast of Lebanon’s Masnaa border crossing.

Source:  The Daily Star