Fighters are allied with Islamist militants
Opposition fighters in southern Syria launched a counter-offensive yesterday on Regime forces on in rural western Qunaytirah Province. Their objective is to reach western al-Ghoutah on the outskirts of Damascus and to cut the supply lines of government forces to Qunaytirah. Meanwhile, it appeared that the attack was an “attempt to outflank the Lebanese Hezbollah guerillas to the west, who in February advanced towards Dar’a, Qunaytirah and rural Damascus. The director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR); Rami ‘Abd-al-Rahman, mentioned that “the opposition was also advancing towards Hezbollah strongholds in Beit Jinn on the Lebanese border.”
Meanwhile, opposition fighters affiliated with Jaysh al-Haramoun were able to continue their advance towards the two regions of al-Hamar and Tal Buzaq, which links northern rural Qunaytirah with western al-Ghoutah. ‘Abd-al-Rahman noted in comments to al-Sharq al-Awsat that opposition fighters “are besieging the Druze town of Hadar, which lies directly southwest of the Syrian town of Majdal Shams (also a Druze town). It is worth noting that Israel occupies this town in the Golan Heights.” He indicated that if the opposition gains control of this town they will then be able to advance towards the regions where Hezbollah guerillas are deployed in Beit Jinn, which is located at the base of Mount Hermon. They will also be able to advance on the region that borders southeastern Lebanon.
Yesterday, Jaysh al-Haramoun leadership sent a message to the Druze villages on the eastern slopes and foothills of Mount Hermon. In the message they told “the local inhabitants of the Druze villages to avoid pushing their children into a confrontation with Jaysh al-Haramoun because the Regime wants to put them on the front lines in order to create the perception of fighting among brothers.” This coincided with the confirmation of the military commander for the Islamic Union of the Soldiers of the Levant (IUSL), who is allied with Jaysh al-Haramoun. The message went on to say that “Jaysh al-Haramoun is determined to cleanse the land of the abomination that is the Syrian Regime and its cohorts. So do not allow your children to join with them.”
The attack came from north of the Qunaytirah Province four months after the Syrian government forces, reinforced by Hezbollah guerillas, advanced upon western rural Damascus, Qunaytirah and Dara’a. They were attempting to alleviate the danger to Damascus from the rural area southwest of Qunaytirah and prevent the opposition from advancing towards the capital unrestrained from the south. The attack was repelled at strategic Tal al-Harah last February.
The Qunaytirah Province, which is formed partially from land in the occupied Golan Heights, is a sensitive region located approximately 70 kilometers southwest of Damascus and has witnessed numerous clashes between various opposition groups and the army of the Syrian Regime and Muslims allied with it. An IUSL spokesman confirmed for al-Sharq al-Awsat that the attack was “large and sudden and would be a decisive factor in the fate of al-Ghoutah west of Damascus.”
Meanwhile, activists mentioned that the factions within Jaysh al-Haramoun controlled the two military strategic hills of Buzaq and Gharin in rural eastern Qunaytirah. This occurred after they infiltrated nearby locations and clashed for several hours with the Regime’s forces stationed there. The breakthrough occurred hours after they gained control of the al-Hamar highlands, which is where the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad established military bases. Activists are saying that the Syrian Regime is bombing the opposition-controlled areas. They added that these bases are located on the border shared with Israel, and in light of the Syrian revolution, became one of the most important points for the Syrian Regime because it overlooks most of the towns in Qunaytirah and the rural areas west of the Dar’a Province. The Regime forces used it to watch the movements of the opposition fighters and to bomb the towns where they were located. The most important of these areas are rural western Dar’a and the towns located in the Qunaytirah Province.
Yesterday, activists reported that confrontations between Regime forces and opposition factions flared up in the latest attempt to control the village of Juba, which is located along the primary supply line for the Regime’s forces stationed in some of the villages and hills north of Qunaytirah. ‘Abd-al-Rahman attributed the success of the opposition forces in their advance to its “orderly” attack, in addition to the fact that “the Regime lacks sufficient power to counter their attacks on every front.” He continued by saying that the al-Nusrah Front is “among the most powerful factions within the region.”
Sources within the opposition have confirmed for al-Sharq al-Awsat that the Jaysh al-Haramoun, which was recently created, combined fighters from the IUSL, the Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyyah (Islamic Movement of the Free Men of the Levant), the Harakat Shuhada’ al-Sham al-Islamiyyah (Islamic Movement of the Martyrs of the Levant), al-Nusrah Front, Liwa’ al-Sayyid al-Masih (The Messiah Brigade), Liwa’ Usama bin-Zayd (The Usama bin-Zayd Brigade), Liwa’ Tawhid al-‘Asimah (The Unification of the Capital Brigade), Liwa’ Farsan al-Sunnah (The Knights of the Sunnah Brigade) and Liwa’ ‘Umar bin al-Khattab (‘Umar bin al-Khattab Brigade). ‘Isam al-Rayyis, spokesman for the opposition forces tweeted that the groups involved in the operation signed an agreement that does not include the al-Nusrah Front (al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria). al-Rayyis clarified that the groups involved in the attack were fighting under the banner of the Free Syrian Army, and have already fought with the al-Nusrah Front in southern Syria. However, it is not the primary opposition group, unlike what is happening in other parts of the country.
According to an IUSL spokesman who spoke with al-Sharq al-Awsat, their most prominent achievements “were opening the way to the besieged strategic town of Beit Jinn, trapping several military brigades in the surrounding al-Hamar highlands and preventing the advance of military supplies from some of the national defense militias.” He continued by highlighting how “they obtained heat seeking anti-aircraft Cobra rockets that were seized from military installations in the al-Hamar highlands.” Jaysh al-Haramoun posted pictures showing fighters carrying one of those rockets.
The aforementioned spokesman announced that the objectives of the battle are to “consolidate control of the al-Hamar highlands and some of the army brigades that are spread throughout the area and to stem the flow of daily bombings on the liberated regions of the highlands. They are also actively trying to open communication channels between the rural areas west of Damascus and the northern rural areas of the Qunaytirah Province as a preparatory step to reaching rural western Damascus. Furthermore, they are attempting to break the blockade on the Dar’a suburbs, which is the first crossing point to the Syrian capital.”
The Regime’s forces currently surround the opposition forces in Dar’a and the town of Khan al-Shih, which is the most prominent area that surrounds the Syrian capital from the west.
Translated by Donald Puhlman.