Media outlets identified with Syrian President Bashar Assad and Hezbollah report that Syria has begun a large-scale offensive to regain control over the Syrian Golan Heights and protect Damascus from the south and west. They are fighting rebels led by the Nusra Front, an offshoot of Al-Qaida.
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Lebanese sources said the attack was coordinated with Hezbollah and Iranian troops. According to unconfirmed reports, General Qasem Soleimani, the commanding officer of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, has arrived in the sector following the recent rocket attacks on Damascus.
The reports of the attack against the rebels and taking several cities in the region come several days after Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said that Syria would not allow the rebels to gain a foothold in the strip of land adjacent to Israel’s border.
Assad’s regime fears that these groups, which it claims are supported by Israel, the United States and Jordan, will gain control of the Syrian Golan. Hezbollah media outlets warned of supposed Israeli involvement, intended to keep the Syrian army from returning to the armistice lines.
The rebel groups have taken control of large swaths of the Syrian Golan Heights and large towns in the area of Quneitra and Dara’a, while the Syrian army withdrew toward the suburbs of Damascus.
According to Syrian and Lebanese sources, Assad’s regime fears that certain rebel militias fighting against ISIS will increase their strength via Western assistance and prepare for an attack on Damascus.
While Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television channel reported on “the beginning of the war on the Golan Heights,” the rebels declared a high state of alert and issued calls on websites to bring troops to the Quneitra and Dara’a regions to stop the army’s advance.
The Syrian army has reportedly regained control over several towns with the assistance of Hezbollah and Iranian troops. Among other things, it reported that it had taken over the town of Hirbet Ghazaleh near Dara’a, for the first time since 2013.
The Syrian army and Hezbollah have not reported on expanding that operation, but reports from the field posted on social media networks say Syrian troops have been advancing toward strategic points on higher ground.
According to those accounts, both sides are suffering heavy fatalities on the battlefield. Daily reports of dozens of militants being killing in battles with the army appear prominently in Syria.
Syrian officials believe that the army’s takeover of the southern sector will affect the war as a whole because the front is considered the regime’s soft underbelly, and each attack by the army on Aleppo or Idlib was met with a response in the south, mainly from Dara’a.
The army’s main goal at this stage is to regain control over the main Dara’a–Damascus route, block the route of logistical aid from the southwest and break the link between the militias deployed from the Mount Hermon sector in the north to Dara’a in the south.
The operation reflects an attempt by Syrian President Bashar Assad to push the rebels out of areas they took control over in the second half of 2014, as well as his fear that opposition progress serves Israel.