At the anniversary of the third year of fighting in Syria, Assad’s troops were able to take control of the rebel town of Yabroud, an important stronghold that is located near a sensitive cross-country route with Lebanon. The successful military offensive of Assad’s army was carried out with the help of the Lebanese group Hezbollah, just a week after the Syrian army seized the city of Zara. According to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Hezbollah has led operations and taken control of most of the city.
The victory over the Yabroud rebels comes after months of fighting in the mountainous region of Qalamoun that the Syrian army wants to control to stop the supply of weapons to the militants that have been so far delivered from Lebanon into Syria.
Yabroud has been in the hands of the rebels since the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011. The city was the last stronghold of anti-Assad resistance close to the Lebanese border and an important supply corridor for weapons and ammunitions reaching the rebels from Lebanon.
Military forces issued a statement on Sunday, saying that they had eliminated a large number of terrorist and mercenary fighters, restoring “security and stability to Yabroud.” The army also said that it had dismantled a number of explosive devices left by the fighters before they fled.
According to Reuters, the Syrian army had confronted a group of 1000 rebels belonging to the militant group Nusra Front that is believed to be linked to Al Qaeda. The initial resistance of the fighters on Saturday was defeated by the army on Sunday, as most of the fighters pulled out of the Yabroud, moving toward other nearby villages.
The seizure of the town of Yabroud is of strategic importance for the Syrian army, as it will allow it to take control and block several routes leading to the porous Lebanese borders and secure it before rebels engaged in the Syria could pour into Lebanon, risking spillage of the conflict into the delicate Mediterranean country.
As a matter of fact, Hezbollah support for Assad has raised tensions between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims within Lebanon, causing growing political insecurity. The chase of militants to different border villages is fostering fear among the local population that the war could break on their streets.
While representing a strategic victory for the Assad regime, the fall of Yabroud also deepens the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria. In fact, since the government offensive started a month ago, Assad forces heavily bombed the city, forcing thousands of people to flee.
According to an analyst quoted by the Daily Star, the seizure of the town is a confirmation that the “real momentum in the strategic zones of this conflict is now with the government.”
The control of Assad’s forces over the rebel town of Yabroud is an important development in the Syrian war that takes place exactly three years after the beginning of the conflict, which so far has claimed the lives of 146 thousand people and displaced 9 million of people, according to UN figures.
By Stefano Salustri