Thousands of Qalamoun jihadis likely to resettle near Arsal: reports
The Daily Star/ May. 11, 2015/BEIRUT: Thousands of Islamist militants withdrawing from Qalamoun villages are likely to regroup on the outskirts of the northeastern Lebanon village of Arsal, local media reports said Monday.As the Syrian army and Hezbollah took control of strategic hills in the volatile border region last week, militants fled north from their hideouts. The militants have moved to the outskirts of Al-Juba, Ras al-Maara and Flita, which implies they could be heading to the outskrits of Arsal soon, according to reports published in As-Safir and Al-Akhbar. The continuation of battles will make this scenario inevitable, the report added, claiming that 2,500 jihadis will seek refuge in Arsal’s outskirts and wherever they can “bite” from the outskirts of Ras Baalbek and Al-Qaa. The main motive behind their relocation is the belief that Hezbollah will not follow them to Arsal’s outskirts, at least not in the near future, and that the Lebanese Army is unlikely to chase them into the area, the reports explained. The report also revealed that militants left behind food, supplies, ammunition and weapons as they came under attack by Hezbollah and Syrian troops. A number of cars were also found, some of which had Lebanese license plates and were rigged with explosives. The report estimated the arms arsenal seized from the jihadis included 150 heavy machineguns ranging from 12.7 to 23 mm caliber, as well as anti-armor rockets with a firing range from 3.5 to 5 kilometers. The jihadis currently have in their possession a “few tanks and armored vehicles,” and “many trucks and bulldozers” the reports said. The militants also have locally produced missiles that can be fired at targets up to 22 kilometers away, the report added. The report also stated that the Hezbollah-Syrian army offensive foiled the militants’ previous plan to exit the Qalamoun hills toward the Homs countryside and then move onto Raqqa, the self-declared capital of ISIS, due to their inability to bring many heavy weapons with them during their retreat. As-Safir said the Nusra Front fighters also left in their hideouts a number of valuable documents and maps, which revealed their “plans, alliances and sponsors.” According to the documents found, Nusra and ISIS were developing a joint “Lebanese strategy” for their actions along the border, which included contingencies based on future Lebanese domestic political developments.
2 Nusra leaders killed in Qalamoun clashes: Al-Manar
The Daily Star/May. 11, 2015 BEIRUT: Hezbollah and Syrian army troops engaged in fresh clashes Monday with jihadi militants over a strategic hill in the Qalamoun region, Hezbollah-owned Al-Manar said, adding that two Nusra leaders died in the fighting. The report said that Al-Barouh hill, located on the outskirts of Ras al-Maara, witnessed fierce clashes which led to the killing of Nusra commander Abu al-Shweikh and a field commander identified as Abu Khaled. Clashes erupted after Hezbollah and the Syrian army wrestled full control of the hill Monday morning. Control of the hill, which overlooks the town of Ras al-Maara and the Lebanese border, allows the Syrian army and it allies to have greater access to the nearby jihadi bases. Hezbollah and the Syrian Army advanced toward the area after seizing control of the outskirts of Al-Juba, Al Manar reported. A security source told The Daily Star, however, that sporadic clashes are still ongoing around the town of Al-Juba, noting that militants still maintained control over two hilltop positions. Militants who fled the outskirts of Ras al-Maara Monday withdrew toward the outskirts of the Lebanese border town of Arsal, namely the areas of al-Rahwe and Wadi Mira, Al-Manar said. The Syrian army and their Lebanese allies are also seeking to advance toward a nearby hilltop known as Tallit Moussa, which is one of the highest positions in the Qalamoun, according to Al-Manar. The hilltop overlooks the outskirts of Arsal, which would allow Hezbollah and the Syrian Army to monitor militant movements in the area. The two sides have been engaged in deadly battles in Syria’s Qalamoun region, which straddles Lebanon’s eastern border, since last week. Hezbollah and the Syrian army have scored important gains in the fighting, driving militants from several towns, including Assal al-Ward and Al-Juba, and about a dozen posts.
At least three Hezbollah fighters and dozens of jihadis have been killed since last week’s clashes erupted.