CAIRO — Syrian government forces appear to have recaptured large portions of the bitterly contested mountain town of Yabroud, along the border with Lebanon. Opposition activists claim pockets of rebel forces still are still holding out in portions of the town and hills overlooking it.
The slow and grinding battle for the mountainous region of Qalamoun, north of Damascus, appears to have ended Sunday with a strategic victory of Syrian government forces. Control over the heights along the Lebanese border gives Damascus a firm hold on a major highway from the capital to the northern coast.
A Syrian Army spokesman called the capture of Yabroud a decisive blow against “terrorism” and noted the government victory will choke rebel supply-lines to neighboring Lebanon.
He says the Syrian Army victory in Yabroud has brought stability and security to the mountains north of Damascus and killed a large number of mercenaries and terrorists who were using the region as a passage for arms from Lebanon.
A rebel fighter calling himself Abu Hoda al Homsi told al Arabiya TV that “pockets of rebels are still in control of portions of Yabroud,” and they had “pulled out of the city center after waiting for reinforcements, which never came.” He added that government planes and artillery had been “pounding rebel positions for days.”
Syrian TV reported rebels had placed mines and booby-traps along side-streets, making it dangerous to enter parts of the town.
Syrian opposition leader Ahmed Jarba told Arab satellite channels the government victory in Yabroud was largely the work of Lebanon's Hezbollah militia and other Shi'ite militiamen from Iraq and Iran.
He says rebel forces are waging a bitter battle against an enemy with no scruples, including Hezbollah, Iraqi Shi'ite militiamen and even fighters from Iran. He claims the outsiders will dig their own tombs in the battle over Yabroud.
Arab satellite channels also reported government shelling and air raids on rebel-held territory in and around Syria's largest city of Aleppo remains intense.