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Qalamoun offensive (June–August 2014)
Part of the Syrian civil war and Syrian Civil War spillover in Lebanon
Al-Qalamoun.JPG
The Qalamoun Mountains
Date21 June[1] – 7 August 2014
(1 month, 2 weeks and 3 days)
LocationQalamun Mountains, Syria and Arsal, Lebanon
Result

Partial Syrian Army/Hezbollah/Lebanese Army victory

  • Hezbollah captures all hills around rebel hideouts on both sides of the border establishing a siege[2]
  • Lebanese Army recaptures the Lebanese town of Arsal from rebel forces[3]
Belligerents

Islamic State
Al-Nusra Front
Islamic Front

Syria-flag 1932-58 1961-63.svg Free Syrian Army

Syria Syrian Arab Republic

Hezbollah


Lebanon Lebanon

Commanders and leaders
Abu Hasan al-Homsi
(Arsal commander)[4]
Abu Ahmed Jumaa (POW)[3]
Lebanon Jean Kahwaji
Strength
3,000 fighters[1] 12,000 Lebanese Army[5]
Casualties and losses
930+ killed (Syrian and Lebanese government claims)[6][7][8][9]

Unknown Syrian and Hezbollah casualties


20 Lebanese soldiers killed,[9][10] 85 wounded[11] and 24 captured (10 released)[10][12]
20 Lebanese policemen captured (5 released)[10][13][14]

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.

Background

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.[15] The strategic region had been used by rebel forces as a rear base for its operations around the capital Damascus.[16] The battle was primarily led on the rebel side by the Al-Nusra Front.[17] 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.[18] However, 3,000 rebels retreated into the mountains to conduct guerrilla hit-and-run attacks.[1]

Offensive

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.[19][20]

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.[21] 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.[22] That morning, Hezbollah fighters entered Tfail in search of opposition fighters reportedly seeking refuge in the village.[23]

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.[24]

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.[25]

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.[26] 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.[27][28] According to another report, Hezbollah lost 14 fighters, while 104 rebels of the Al-Nusra Front were killed and 40 rebels were captured.[29][30]

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.[28] 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.[31] 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.[32]

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.[33]

After one week of fighting, the Syrian Army claimed 650 rebels were killed in the operation.[6]

On 25 July, the Syrian air force struck rebel forces east of Arsal, killing 20 rebels.[7] Two days later, Hezbollah repelled an attempt by rebels to capture a strategic hill between Arsal and Flita.[34]

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.[2]

During the night between 1 and 2 August,[35] 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[36] and 7[35]–11 government fighters, including 2 Hezbollah members, were killed.[36] Other sources claimed 200 rebels, 20 soldiers and two Hezbollah militiamen were killed.[8]

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.[37] The rebels than proceeded to take control of the town.[38] 16 policemen were taken hostage,[39] as well as two soldiers who were freed by the military later in the day.[37] The fighting continued into the next day and left 30 militants,[40] 10 soldiers and two civilians dead. 25 soldiers were wounded and 13 were missing and presumed captured.[41] Two of the missing soldiers were rescued the same day.[42]

On 4 August, the death toll had risen to 17 soldiers,[43] 50 civilians and 50 militants. 86 soldiers had been wounded and the number of missing had reached 22,[11] while 135 civilians and 15 militants were wounded.[44] Two of the dead civilians were infant Syrian refugees.[45] The military had advanced and captured[11] the technical institute building, which was seized by the militants the previous day,[42] as the town came under heavy shell fire from multiple directions.[46] In the evening, the Army also managed to capture Ras al-Serj hill.[13]

On 5 August, the military was attempting to capture two government buildings, while three soldiers and three policemen were released by the militants.[13] During the day's fighting, the ISIS commander for the Arsal area was reportedly killed,[4] while Al-Nusra forces retreated from the town.[47] In the evening, a 24-hour cease-fire started.[38]

On 6 August, another three soldiers were released, while 10 soldiers and 17 policemen remained as captives.[48]

By 7 August, ISIS forces had also retreated from the town and a fragile truce was established and redeployed along the border with Syria.[3][49][50] Their hideouts there were subsequently bombed by the Syrian Air Force, resulting in dozens of wounded militants.[51] 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,[52] which was updated to 19 by 12 August. 60 militants were also confirmed dead,[9] as well as 42 civilians. Another 400 civilians were wounded.[53]

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Events in Iraq makes Hezbollah vulnerable
  2. 2.0 2.1 Hezbollah, Syrian regime battle rebels in northeast Lebanon
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Lebanon: Islamist militants threaten to reinvade Ersal unless conditions are met
  4. 4.0 4.1 ISIS commander killed in Arsal clashes: report
  5. Syrian Islamist rebels 'withdraw from Lebanese town after truce'
  6. 6.0 6.1 More than 650 terrorists were killed in the past week of intense fighting along side the Northern borders with Lebanon.
  7. 7.0 7.1 ISIS presses ahead on three fronts in Syria war
  8. 8.0 8.1 Two Hezbollah fighters, 20 troops killed in Qalamoun
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Kahwagi: Army will do utmost to free hostages
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Captured soldiers: They will kill us, if Hezbollah remains in Syria
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Lebanese army advances in border area
  12. 2 freed (2 August),[1] 2 freed (3 August),[2] 3 freed (5 August),[3] 3 freed (6 August),[4] total of 10 soldiers freed
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Truce collapses, clashes renew in northeast Lebanon
  14. Militants free two ISF members captured in Arsal clashes
  15. "Fierce Syria clashes spark exodus to Lebanon". Al Jazeera. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2013/11/fierce-syria-clashes-spark-exodus-lebanon-2013111712321697322.html. 
  16. "Syria air force bombards town near Lebanon: monitor". Hürriyet Daily News. http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/syria-air-force-bombards-town-near-lebanon-monitor.aspx?pageID=238&nID=58038&NewsCatID=352. 
  17. "ISIS joins other rebels to thwart Syria regime push near Lebanon". McClatchy. 4 March 2014. http://www.sacbee.com/2014/03/04/6207631/isis-joins-other-rebels-to-thwart.html. Retrieved 14 May 2014. 
  18. Syria rebels surrender in border town
  19. 29 Hezbollah fighters killed in Syria in last two days
  20. Why ISIS gains in Iraq are reshaping Syrian regime's war strategy (+video)
  21. Tfail vacated as Syrian army nears
  22. Hezbollah, Syrian army surround Lebanese enclave
  23. Hezbollah enters Tfail in search of rebel gunmen
  24. Syria army battles rebels in key Damascus foothills: TV
  25. Syrian troops advance near Lebanon border
  26. 16 dead in Hezbollah-Syria rebels battle on Lebanon border
  27. Syrian rebels clash with Hezbollah along border
  28. 28.0 28.1 Hezbollah, Nusra Front clash near Lebanon border
  29. 40 rebels of Jabhat al-Nusra were captured
  30. 14 fighters killed
  31. Arsal on high alert as border battles close in
  32. Heavy Fighting in Arsal between Hizbullah and Militants
  33. Hezbollah lowers fighting age as it takes on Islamic State
  34. Hezbollah foils rebels' attempt to recapture strategic hill
  35. 35.0 35.1 Syria troops kill over 50 jihadists near Lebanon
  36. 36.0 36.1 Over 50 rebels killed in Syria region near Lebanon -activists, sources
  37. 37.0 37.1 8 Lebanon soldiers killed in Syria border clashes
  38. 38.0 38.1 Ceasefire agreed in Lebanese border town battle
  39. Jihadists Extend Control Into Lebanese City
  40. Ten soldiers, 30 militants killed in east Lebanon
  41. 10 troops dead on Lebanon-Syria border
  42. 42.0 42.1 14 soldiers killed as Army advances to crush militants
  43. Thousands Flee as Lebanon Battles Syrian Militants
  44. Lebanese army tries to expel Syria-linked militants from border town
  45. Residents flee Arsal amid heavy clashes
  46. Border Fighting Intensifies Between ISIS and Lebanon
  47. Deal reached: ISIS to leave Arsal, soldiers to be released
  48. Sunni fighters, Lebanese army extend fragile cease-fire in border town
  49. Over 1000 Syrians flee Arsal for Qalamoun
  50. Militants pull out of Lebanese border town with captives
  51. "Efforts underway to free captured Lebanese soldiers". The Daily Star. 7 August 2014. http://dailystar.com.lb/News/Lebanon-News/2014/Aug-07/266344-seven-lebanese-policemen-freed-in-arsal-security-source.ashx#axzz39iwS8kWq. Retrieved 7 August 2014. 
  52. Lebanese Army enters Arsal in full force
  53. Militants pull out of Lebanese border town with captives

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