Battle of Qalamoun
|Battle of Qalamoun|
|Part of the Syrian civil war|
Frontlines in the Qalamoun Mountains in March 2014
Syrian Government control Opposition control Hezbollah Presence For a war map of the current situation in Rif Dimashq, see Contestedhere.
|Syrian Arab Republic||Al-Nusra Front|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Unknown|| Salim Barakat †
Firas Qassem †
|~10,000 Syrian Army troops (deployed for the assault Yabrud)
15,000 Hezbollah fighters (opposition claim)
|Casualties and losses|
200 killed (opposition TV claim)
120 Hezbollah fighters killed and injured (SOHR claim)
40 Hezbollah fighters killed (Hezbollah claim)
The Battle of Qalamoun started on 15 November 2013, with air strikes on the town of Qara, in the strategic Qalamoun region, in an attempt by the Syrian Army 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. For its part, government forces had been using the nearby highway to link Damascus with the central Homs province and had multiple weapons depots in the area.
2013 Army offensive
Capture of Qara
Between 15 and 17 November, 1,200–1,700 families, 90 percent of Qara, evacuated from the town over the border into the Lebanese town of Arsal, after the Syrian Army issued a warning that they were going to attack rebel forces in the area. In preparation for the offensive, thousands of Hezbollah fighters positioned themselves opposite the Qalamoun region on the Lebanese side of the border. For its part, rebels had been digging in for months, preparing a network of caves and bunkers in the mountains.
On 15 November, the military launched its offensive against Qara and the next day multiple air strikes hit the rebel-held town. Fighting was also raging near the towns of An-Nabk and Rima. The clashes led to the closure of the Damascus-Homs highway. Rebel forces in the area mobilised to counter the Army offensive.
On 17 November, government forces moved into the hills around Qara and were attempting to storm the town itself as more air strikes were conducted. Artillery was also used to hit the town. By the afternoon, government forces were not able to advance in the city despite repeated attempts and the constant bombardment.
On 18 November, government troops continued the offensive, capturing key positions in Qara, according to the pro-government al-Watan daily newspaper. The Air Force carried out several raids on al-Qalamoun and Yabrud mountains, as pro-government press sources claimed that the Army controlled large parts of Qara. A man who fled Qara into Lebanon described the attack on the town and stated "Qara is finished". Middle East security officials stated there were few signs yet of a massive Syrian armour build-up needed for an all-out assault on Qalamoun. They speculated that the government may conclude that dwindling rebel supplies from Lebanon would mean an all-out assault is not worth the cost.
Rebel attack on Deir Attiyeh
On 20 November, a series of suicide attacks occurred against government forces in An-Nabk and Deir Attiyeh. A suicide car bomber targeted a military checkpoint while another blew up near a security headquarters, both on the outskirts of An-Nabk. In another incident, two Saudis tried to blow up the hospital in Deir Attiyeh but were stopped by government soldiers. In the attack on the checkpoint seven soldiers were killed and five wounded, while several soldiers died in the attack on the hospital. After the Saudi bombers exploded, five rebel fighters entered the hospital in an attempt to destroy medical equipment and kidnap a wounded Army officer and the Ikhbariya al-Suriya television crew. However, they were beaten back by the Army and the officer and crew were saved. Meanwhile, eight rebels were killed in fighting in the countryside around Deir Attiyeh.
On 22 November, rebel forces, led by jihadists from ISIL and Al-Nusra Front, mostly seized the largely Christian town of Deir Attiyeh. Only the Bassel hospital and a small hill remained under Army control.
On 25 November, the Army started deploying troops in Deir Attiyeh, in preparation to recapture the town, and soon after launched a counter-attack. The next day, the Air Forces hit Al-Nabk, killing seven people, including three children. Meanwhile, the Syrian Health Minister, Saad al-Nayef, accused the rebels of committing a "massacre" in Deir Attiyeh, killing "five doctors, five nurses and two ambulance drivers." Opposition activists confirmed five doctors and four nurses were killed in the clashes at the main hospital.
On 27 November, four Hezbollah fighters were killed in fighting in the Qalamoun region, one of them the nephew of the Lebanese Caretaker Agriculture Minister Hussein Hajj Hassan, a top Hezbollah official. At this time, fighting started in the area of the government-held town of Maaloula.
Army push into An-Nabk, fighting in Maaloula
The same day the Army recaptured Deir Attiyeh, government forces entered An-Nabk and fighting raged around the town. A military source stated that if the town would to be captured, the Army would be left with only Yabrud and some other villages to take in order to completely block off the border with Lebanon.
On 29 November, the Army was shelling rebel positions in the town that had halted its advance. Government forces detained dozens of people in the western part of An-Nabk that they had captured.
On the night of 29 November, rebel forces started an attack on Maaloula, in an attempt to capture it and cut Army supply lines from Damascus to An-Nabk, after their previous attack on the town was repelled in September. In the early hours of the next day, the rebels broke into the town and captured the Mar Takla convent in the western part of Maaloula. Meanwhile, fighting was still continuing in An-Nabk, which was hit with several air strikes. The Air Force also attacked Yabrud.
On 1 December, fighting in Maaloula was concentrated in the old quarter of the town. Meanwhile, a suicide bomber attacked a police checkpoint on the Damascus-Homs highway, near An-Nabk, killing five government fighters. By this point, according to a Syrian security source, the military had captured 60 percent of An-Nabk.
On 2 December, the rebels moved into the center of Maaloula, after sending explosive-filled tires hurtling down from positions in the cliffs above the town on security forces deployed there. By this point, rebel forces captured the old quarter of Maaloula. The Army and pro-government militias fought during the day in an attempt to retake the district. Several nuns from the monastery were being held by jihadist fighters and, according to a Vatican spokesperson, the 12 Syrian and Lebanese Orthodox nuns were forcibly taken north in the direction of Yabrud. During the evening, rebels had taken full control of Maaloula, with fighting continuing against government forces in the town's outskirts. After the town's capture, three Christians in Maaloula were executed by rebels after refusing to convert to Islam. At the same time, the Army captured most of An-Nabk and continued to advance through the town the next day. Due to the advances, the Army reopened the Damascus-Homs highway.
On 3 December, the Army sent reinforcements to Maaloula to link up with government forces still on the outskirts of the town and attempt to retake it.
On 6 December, government forces reportedly killed at least 18 people, including children, in an underground shelter in the government-held Al-Fattah district of An-Nabk. The opposition claimed that government troops torched the bodies after the killings "in a bid to conceal their crime". The next day, the number of those killed was updated to 40.
On 7 December, according to Iranian Press TV, the Army cleared the outskirts of An-Nabk, but fighting was still ongoing inside the town itself. On 8 December, the Army advanced further, capturing new sectors of An-Nabk. The next day, the Army reopened the Damascus-Homs highway, after securing it for the most part. However, according to SOHR, the highway was still not fully secured due to continuing rebel attacks. On 10 December, the Army took full control of An-Nabk, with fighting continuing in its outskirts as a pocket of rebel resistance in a small area east of the town remained. State TV aired a live report from An-Nabk's main square in the center of the town. According to a pro-government newspaper, 100 rebels were killed or captured during the battle for the town.
On 11 December, government forces shelled the outskirts of Yabrud and the Rima area, as well as the outskirts of An-Nabk. Several air strikes were also conducted against Yabrud. By 15 December, the military was prepared to storm the town.
Early on 21 December, Hezbollah forces ambushed a group of Al-Nusra Front rebels on the Lebanese side of the border in Wadi al-Jamala, on the outskirts of Nahle, a mountainous area opposite the Qalamoun region. The rebels were attempting to infiltrate Lebanon from Syria via an illegal border crossing. 32 rebels and one Hezbollah fighter were killed and one Hezbollah fighter was wounded.
On 27 December, the Army ambushed a rebel force in a mountainous area between Maaloula and Yabrud, leaving 65 rebels dead and 20 wounded. The same day, 15 people were killed by landmines in the area between Yabrud and An-Nabk.
On 30 January, it was reported the Syrian army was preparing to start the battle for control of Yabroud. During this time, the Reema Farms had been witnessing violent clashes between the Army and the rebels, while the military captured the hills around Al-Neaymat and Al-Abboudieh, along the Syrian-Lebanese border.
2014 renewed Army offensive
Battle for the hills
On 10 February, the military renewed its offensive against rebels in the Qalamoun mountains. On 12 February, the Syrian Air Force launched 20 airstrikes on Yabrud, while the Syrian Army captured the town of al-Jarajir, north-west of Yabrud near the Lebanese border. The next day, according to the pro-government al-Watan newspaper, the Army captured the town of Sahel, the al-Arid road, Qamieh and al-Kornish areas surrounding Yabrud.
By the end of February, according to a Hezbollah commander, government forces had captured 70 percent of the Qalamoun mountains.
On 26 February, a rebel commander was killed outside Yabrud, while rebels claimed that they continued to withstand the offensive. They also claimed that the government offensive failed in the Rima Farms region to force a breakthrough.
On 27 February, the pro-government Al-Watan newspaper reported that the Army captured two strategic hills near Yabrud that were being used by the rebels as supply routes.
On 28 February, rebel sources claimed that their forces captured "Flag" hill and that Hezbollah retreated from the Sahel front.
On 3 March, according to the Iranian Al-Alam news network, government forces recaptured Sahel and the previous day, the Army reportedly captured the strategic Al-Kuwaiti hill. Meanwhile, according to the SOHR, fighting was still continuing in the Sahel area, but government forces were advancing. A journalist for Hezbollah's television channel Al-Manar made a TV report from the village. Government forces were reportedly reinforced by an Iraqi militia for the assault. 17 rebels, 15 government soldiers and militiamen and four Hezbollah fighters were killed during the day's fighting and 30 rebels were captured. One of the killed rebels was Hussein Mohammad Ammoun, who orcestrated a car bomb plot involving a female terrorism suspect in Lebanon the previous month.
On 4 March, fighting was reportedly still continuing in the Sahel area, while reporters were taken on a tour of the village. A military commander also stated that the Army captured several hills and strategic positions on Yabrud's outskirts. To the north of Yabrud, in the Rima area, helicopters bombarded rebel positions using barrel bombs.
On 5 March, government forces in Sahel were preparing to advance towards Flita and Ras al-Ma'ara. The next day, they pressed their offensive against Yabrud and captured the "Kuwait" and "Qatar" hills near the city. The Army also captured areas in the Rima Farms region. According to another report, government forces also captured Yabrud's industrial zone, in the western part of the city. 17 rebels and 15 soldiers were reportedly killed in the fighting.
On 9 March, the nuns captured by rebels in Maaloula, and held for more than three months in Yabrud, were released and were on their way to Damascus via Lebanon.
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