Syria Conflict: government forces take rebel towns near Damascus

Exclusive to The Middle East Online

Edited by Nelly Tawil

Syrian government and allied forces including Lebanese Hezbollah fighters have retaken a large area southeast of Damascus on Thursday, the land had been under rebel control since 2012 and reportedly fell in a matter of hours.

The advance is part of a wider escalation in fighting that has accompanied failed diplomatic efforts to end the five-year conflict. Syria’s war has killed 250, 000 people, created the worst refugee crisis since World War II, allowed for the rise of Islamic State and drawn in many regional and global powers.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it was one of the most significant government advances this year, after its forces took territory in northwestern and central Syria.

The UK-based monitoring group said pro-government forces had launched “a violent attack and heavy air campaign” as rebels moved to shore up the frontline.

Soldiers, backed by fighters from the Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, took advantage of weeks of infighting among rebel groups to advance, it added.

Hezbollah’s Al Manar television said the fighting in Damascus’s Eastern Ghouta suburbs was part of a new military operation by the Syrian army against the rebels.

Observatory director Rami Abdulrahman said most Eastern Ghouta is still in rebel hands but Thursday’s gains could pace the way for further government and Hezbollah advances there.

On Thursday hundreds of families fled Deir al-Asafir because of the intensity of the clashes between the government side and the rebels, the Observatory said.

Hezbollah fighters played a key role in the assault, Abdulrahman said, which took place near to where the group’s top military commander in Syria was recently killed by what it said was rebel shellfire.