The Qalamoun offensive (June–August 2014) was launched by the Syrian Army, in coordination with the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, during the Syrian Civil War against remnant rebel forces following the previous Battle of Qalamoun which resulted in the military securing all of the towns in the region.
In mid-November 2013, the Syrian military, backed up by Hezbollah, launched an offensive against the rebel-held Qalamun Mountains in an attempt to cut rebel supply lines to Damascus from Lebanon. The strategic region had been used by rebel forces as a rear base for its operations around the capital Damascus. The battle was primarily led on the rebel side by the Al-Nusra Front. By late April 2014, the last major rebel stronghold in the region fell to the military as it secured all of the towns in the region. However, 3,000 rebels retreated into the mountains to conduct guerrilla hit-and-run attacks.
Surrounding of Tfail
On 14 June, a rebel commander claimed that 29 Hezbollah fighters were killed (11 by an ambush) in and around Rankous over a period of two days. Hezbollah sources confirmed that fighting was taking place in Rankous.
Four days later, the Army advanced to within a kilometer from the Lebanese border village of Tfail, which is surrounded on three sides by Syria, with fears that government forces, including Hezbollah, would tighten their grip on the village. On 21 June, the military captured the Syrian territory surrounding the village as 70 rebels surrendered. This advance left the outskirts of Tfail on the Syrian side under Syrian Army control. Rebels in the village were allowed to return to Syria along with their families. That morning, Hezbollah fighters entered Tfail in search of opposition fighters reportedly seeking refuge in the village.
On 22 June, government forces launched an assault on the foothills of the Qalamoun mountains and state TV claimed the troops had captured some hills overlooking the Rankous plain and cut the route used by rebels to periodically return to the region. At this point, it was confirmed 14 Hezbollah fighters had been killed in the previous two weeks in the area. The rebels had been hiding in the heights and caves after the offensive, but started to conduct hit-and-run attacks on government positions in the previous weeks and managing to retake some positions.
On 27 June, Syrian state TV stated that government forces captured areas near the Lebanese border, cutting rebel supply lines. Syrian troops had also reached the edge of Tfail.
Battle for the hills
In mid-July, Hezbollah started an operation to clear the border area of remnant rebel forces. At the start of the operation, Hezbollah forces were ambushed but soon called up reinforcements. After two days of fighting, Hezbollah took control of the hills near the Lebanese village of Youneen. It was confirmed 6–7 Hezbollah and 17–32 rebel fighters were killed and 31 Hezbolah and 23 rebel fighters were wounded. 14 rebels were also captured. According to another report, Hezbollah lost 14 fighters, while 104 rebels of the Al-Nusra Front were killed and 40 rebels were captured.
Days later, another round of fighting along the outskirts of Arsal and the Lebanese town of Al-Fakiha left two Hezbollah militiamen and dozens of rebels dead, with an additional seven rebels captured. The Syrian army unleashed rocket salvos on rebel pockets as warplanes provided aerial cover for Hezbollah fighters working to cut off supply routes from Arsal. A security source confirmed more than 100 people had been killed since the start of the Hezbollah operation, including an aid to the rebel spokesman of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades.
In one instance during the battle for the hills, a Hezbollah squad seized a hill, east of the Lebanese village of Nahle, from the rebels. They were than replaced with a 40-man unit that lacked ammunition and radio batteries. Soon, 250 Syrian rebels launched a counter-attack, using the rugged terrain to approach right up to the Hezbollah positions. At one point, the rebels were only 10 meters from the Hezbollah fighters. The five-hour battle ended after Hezbollah reinforcements arrived, who were alerted to the battle by the sound of gunfire, and the rebel attack was repelled. 10 Hezbollah militiamen were killed and 20 wounded.
After one week of fighting, the Syrian Army claimed 650 rebels were killed in the operation.
On 25 July, the Syrian air force struck rebel forces east of Arsal, killing 20 rebels. Two days later, Hezbollah repelled an attempt by rebels to capture a strategic hill between Arsal and Flita.
By the end of July, Hezbollah captured the hills around rebel hideouts in both the Qalamoun region and in the mountains bordering Shiite villages in northeastern Lebanon, thus establishing a siege on the rebel forces. Hezbollah monitored the rebel supply lines and fired at any groups attempting to provide the rebels with aid.
During the night between 1 and 2 August, government troops, backed up by Hezbollah militiamen, ambushed rebel forces near the town of al-Jobeh, around 10 km from the border. The attack also included artillery strikes. As a result of the ambush, 50–170 rebels and 7–11 government fighters, including 2 Hezbollah members, were killed. Other sources claimed 200 rebels, 20 soldiers and two Hezbollah militiamen were killed.
Battle of Arsal
On 2 August, after Lebanese security forces arrested an Al-Nusra Front commander, Syrian rebels surrounded Lebanese Army checkpoints in the region before attacking them and storming Arsal's police station. The rebels than proceeded to take control of the town. 16 policemen were taken hostage, as well as two soldiers who were freed by the military later in the day. The fighting continued into the next day and left 30 militants, 10 soldiers and two civilians dead. 25 soldiers were wounded and 13 were missing and presumed captured. Two of the missing soldiers were rescued the same day.
On 4 August, the death toll had risen to 17 soldiers, 50 civilians and 50 militants. 86 soldiers had been wounded and the number of missing had reached 22, while 135 civilians and 15 militants were wounded. Two of the dead civilians were infant Syrian refugees. The military had advanced and captured the technical institute building, which was seized by the militants the previous day, as the town came under heavy shell fire from multiple directions. In the evening, the Army also managed to capture Ras al-Serj hill.
On 5 August, the military was attempting to capture two government buildings, while three soldiers and three policemen were released by the militants. During the day's fighting, the ISIS commander for the Arsal area was reportedly killed, while Al-Nusra forces retreated from the town. In the evening, a 24-hour cease-fire started.
On 6 August, another three soldiers were released, while 10 soldiers and 17 policemen remained as captives.
By 7 August, ISIS forces had also retreated from the town and a fragile truce was established and redeployed along the border with Syria. Their hideouts there were subsequently bombed by the Syrian Air Force, resulting in dozens of wounded militants. Two days later, the Lebanese Army entered Arsal in full force and re-established control over checkpoints that the militants had previously seized, while another soldier died of his wounds, bringing the military death toll to 18, which was updated to 19 by 12 August. 60 militants were also confirmed dead, as well as 42 civilians. Another 400 civilians were wounded.
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- 2 freed (2 August), 2 freed (3 August), 3 freed (5 August), 3 freed (6 August), total of 10 soldiers freed
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