Syria

Al-Qalamoun Battles: No Place for Retreat

Qalamoun_

Leaders of the armed Syrian opposition in the Qalamoun outskirts often speak about victories they are achieving in this region, promising more in the future. Their enemies however accuse them of creating media noise which lacks all field evidences. Hezbollah and the Syrian army assert this piece of land is strategic; there is no place for retreat.

Since the beginnings of last summer, Hezbollah and Syrian army fighters were able to avert more than six huge attacks whether towards the Lebanese lands or inside Syria, in the countryside of al-Qusayr or in al-Qalamoun. The battle of Brital outskirts, last Sunday, and what has followed, are considered the sixth attack. On the Syrian “side” of the front, the “al-Nusra” leadership was focusing on the town of Assal al-Ward. It is closer to the Lebanese borders than other towns of al-Qalamoun (opposite to the town of Tufail). Assal al-ward’s outskirts, along with the outskirts of Tufail, are connected with the outskirts of Sarghaya and al-Zabadani. For this reason, the militants focused their attacks on it at a rate of an attack per week (some of which were very limited).

In the major six battles, just like the limited ones, the opposition militants, led by “ISIL” and “al-Nusra”, failed to create any hole that would allow them to restore their “lost glory” in al-Qalamoun. Only once they did achieve it with the help of “sleeper cells”, through which they deeply penetrated in the outskirts towards Talfita, which was soon contained so that the militants weren’t able to achieve what they aimed at.

Battle after another, Hezbollah fighters and the Syrian army soldiers get to know their opponents more. The resistance does not underestimate the capabilities of its opponents; yet it refuses to engage in their media game. “The battle is fierce”, as field leaders acknowledge, “we are paying heavy prices on the outskirts, but they are still incomparable with what the Lebanese in general, and the people of Beqaa in particular were about to suffer in case the southern countryside of Homs (al-Qusayr area) and the northern countryside of Damascus (al-Qalamoun) remained under the militants’ control.” Syrian sources, as well as other sources close to Hezbollah, assert that the opposition militants “are going to a useless battle, even if they created a gap somewhere, they will not be able to behold it. And in case they assumed this winter would protect them from our attacks, they have to remember that the liberation of al-Qalamoun started last February.”

Above all, according to those who are concerned with the battles on the outskirts, is that the militants are losing in every battle some of their “elite” fighters. Such attacks are not executed by regular fighters, who carry weapons without mastering the arts of war as well as having the courage to breakthrough. In every battle, the “al-Nusra Front”, “ISIL” and other factions lose more experienced fighters. It is true that the support with fighters didn’t stop, especially through Arsal, despite all what the Lebanese army has done, “but the new fighters are not as experienced as the ones who died.” Sources familiar with the battles on the outskirts said that Hezbollah wouldn’t have launched this attack on the outskirts, because a battle that is conducted without a complete seclusion for Arsal will remain pointless. However, the opposition fighters “preserved it from going to an offensive battle. Instead of waiting them to exhaust it on the heights and valleys they control, they came from the outskirts and started attacking the positions of Hezbollah and the Syrian army on both sides of the borders.” In most of the attacks, defenders were able to avert them without any losses. Yet in some others, heavy prices were paid to block the militants from moving forward and turning the area into a pad to attack the Lebanese land.

Sources close to Hezbollah note that the al-Qalamoun militants are repeating what their fellows have done in the eastern Ghouta (eastern countryside of Damascus). In Ghouta, they launched successive attacks to break the imposed blockade on them. Successive “waves of humans”, some of which inflicted heavy loss in the lives of the Syrian army and its allies, but these losses have “broken the back of the militants” according to Syrian military sources. The last of such attacks was in November of 2013 when the militants achieved progress that would have lifted the blockade on Ghouta. The Syrian army and Hezbollah however controlled the situation causing losses among the militants that hit hundreds of them between killed and injured. The opposition members thereafter occupied Adra al-Ummaliyah, but since then, they couldn’t conduct wide attacks. They penetrate in some front, but without any valuable military change in the field reality.

Close sources to Hezbollah wonder: “Would this media noise created by the militants in the past days and weeks reflect a change on the ground in al-Qalamoun?” And answer: “The map of power division didn’t change on the ground. The only change was in our interest through controlling the hills to fortify the sites inside the Lebanese lands.” The same sources note that the militants are “making desperate efforts” to regain control over several towns before winter starts. They consider their remaining in the open air and in the camps on the outskirts will weaken them. And they reached a difficult stage by now. They have a lot of weapons, but in one of the sites they took control of; they preferred to carry food when withdrawing instead of carrying weapons and ammunitions. As for asking if the media noise they created reflects their approach to achieve their goal of controlling the towns, the same sources are certain that it will not.

What will come after these rounds? The Syrian army and Hezbollah are getting ready to “receive the militants”: “We know that they will become more brutal, and they will execute more of suicide operations. They also might do some things in Lebanon that would catch the media and political attention. Yet, an attack after another, they are going to lose more of their experienced fighters. They won’t be able to return as they were before liberating al-Qalamoun in last February. The more they attack, the weaker their progress will be. Hezbollah and the Syrian army will not stand aside; they would rather activate their special and security operations.” Some close sources to Hezbollah are orienting the resistance leadership toward what is going on in al-Qalamoun saying that: “A lot of motives stand behind the decision to participate in the fights of Syria, the most important is to forbid “the al-Nusra Front” and “ISIL” and their allies from controlling the Syrian areas adjacent to the borders with Beqaa, a redline whose traversing is forbidden.”

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