Hezbollah targets rebel pockets around Qalamoun peak

Hezbollah and the Syrian army Thursday swept areas surrounding the Qalamoun region’s highest peak for “remaining pockets” of jihadis, one day after capturing the strategic territory in fierce fighting that left dozens of militants dead.

Hezbollah-owned Al-Manar TV said that Hezbollah and the Syrian army were “clearing” areas around Tallit Moussa and the nearby Jabal al-Barouh for rebel fighters.

Al-Manar added that Hezbollah’s main operations Thursday involved fortifying positions they had captured around Tallit Moussa, one day after wresting full control over the peak, which lies around 2,500 meters above sea level.

The report also said that Hezbollah captured the Dahr al-Hawa peak, located northeast of Lebanese town of Younin.

The area, which is 6 square kilometers of rugged hilltops, is comprised of a series of peaks including Tallit al-Raya, which lies over 2,300 meters above sea level.

Hezbollah also seized “illegal crossings” linking the outskirts of the Lebanese border town of Arsal to the outskirts of the Syrian village of Ras al-Maara, as the party continues to cut off militant supply routes between Lebanon and Syria.

Hezbollah and Syrian army forces also clashed with militants in Jabal al-Barouh in west Qalamoun Thursday, a security source said.

The advance towards the peak that falls south of Tallit Moussa, is the latest attempt by the party to capture mountain ranges straddling Lebanon’s eastern border with Syria.

Full control of Jabal al-Barouh and Tallit Moussa will also allow Hezbollah and the Syrian army to secure the M5 highway linking Damascus to Homs.

Hezbollah officials Thursday commended the party’s victory in the Qalamoun, saying that it serves to shield Lebanon from the threat of terrorist attacks.

Hezbollah MP Hussein Mussawi lauded the party’s “military accomplishments” in Qalamoun in a statement Thursday, describing the offensive as a “preventive operation that secured the eastern frontier and Bekaa Valley villages from the threat of takfiri groups.”

Hezbollah deputy chief Naim Qassem said the party’s advance in the area serves to “protect Lebanon, the resistance and [Hezbollah’s] political project and decision.”

Hezbollah’s Loyalty to the Resistance bloc also commended the party’s success, saying in a statement that the battle was “a national duty necessitated by the people’s interests and their right to security and dignity.”

“The sacrifices that are made in this regard, and the victories accomplished, will reflect positively on the security and strength of all the Lebanese,” the statement added.

Meanwhile Thursday, a Hezbollah fighter who was killed in this week’s clashes was laid to rest in Sidon. Mourners and party officials attended a funeral march that saw the body of Ahmad Toufic being carried from the Zahraa Complex in Sidon to his hometown of Bablieh.

Also Thursday, ISIS and the Nusra Front engaged in fierce clashes along Lebanon’s eastern border after the former attempted to infiltrate Nusra positions in al-Zamarani and Wadi Ajram, a security source said.

The two areas are considered to be highly strategic crossings that link the Lebanese border town of Arsal to Syrian territory and have been repeatedly used by militants to infiltrate Lebanon and attack Lebanese villages over the past two years.

ISIS waged a first wave of attacks on the area at 5 p.m. Thursday in a bid to wrest control over the two positions, but the Nusra Front repelled the infiltration attempt with heavy artillery fire.

Later in the evening, ISIS launched a second attack that led to fierce fighting between the two groups, the source said.

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