#Open journalism No news is bad news

Your contributions will help us continue to deliver the stories that are important to you

Support The Journal
Dublin: 8°C Tuesday 1 December 2020
Advertisement

Dead bodies shown on State TV as Syrian army capures rebel stronghold

State television broadcast images of dead fighters and said the army was targeting ‘groups of terrorists’.

imageFile: A Syrian army soldier steps out from the burned court building that was set on fire by Syrian anti-government protesters, in the southern city of Daraa. Pic: AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File

SYRIA’S ARMY SAID today it had seized the rebel stronghold Yabrud, where it is backed by Lebanon’s Hezbollah and pro-regime militias, dealing the opposition a heavy symbolic and strategic blow.

An army statement said:

After a series of special operations, the Syrian Arab army, in coordination with the (paramilitary) National Defence Forces, returned security and stability to the town of Yabrud and its surroundings in northern Damascus province.

State television broadcast images of dead fighters, and its correspondent on the ground said traffic was moving normally along the nearby highway that links the capital Damascus to Syria’s third city Homs.

“This new success… is an important step towards securing the border area with Lebanon, and cutting off the roads and tightening the noose around the remaining terrorist cells in Damascus province,” the military added.

Clashes

imageSouth Korean students hold candles for the children in Syria during a candle light vigil. Pic: AP Photo/Lee Jin-man

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an NGO, said Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah movement had led the Yabrud operation.

Opposition sources said civilians and activists in the town had fled overnight into neighbouring Lebanon.

Syrian state television said the army was targeting “groups of terrorists” fleeing Yabrud between the village of Fleita in Syria and the town of Arsal just across the border in Lebanon.

The fall of Yabrud comes after months of Syrian army operations in the strategic Qalamoun region, north of Damascus, where the town is situated.

Late last year, the army captured a string of nearby towns – Qara, Deir Attiya and Nabuk – as it extended its control in a southern sweep along the Damascus-Homs highway.

It then turned it sights to Yabrud, which has been a rebel bastion since early in the Syrian uprising that began in March 2011.

Key strategic prize

In addition to its symbolic importance, the town is a key strategic prize because of its proximity to the highway and the Lebanese border, across which rebels have smuggled fighters and weapons.

The capture of the town, and continuing army operations in the surrounding area, will sever important supply lines for the rebels as they face several army advances on different fronts.

The town’s seizure is also likely to place new pressure on Lebanon’s Arsal, just across the border, which is hosting at least 51,000 Syrian refugees, many from the Qalamun region.

Sunni Arsal is largely sympathetic to the Sunni-led uprising, and rebel fighters are believed to have bases in areas around the town, which are regularly targeted by Syrian war planes.

Yabrud was once home to some 30,000 residents, around 90 percent Sunni Muslim and 10 percent Christian.

On Sunday, hundreds of Damascus residents took to the streets, celebrating the army’s capture of Yabrud.

Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah is a staunch ally of the Syrian regime and its Al-Manar television channel reported live on Sunday from Yabrud, interviewing fighters.

imageSyrian refugee Um Raad, 30, from Daraa, holds her 6 day-old son, Abdullah, at the Moroccan field hospital in Zaatari refugee camp. Pic: AP Photo/Mohammad Hannon, File

Anniversary

The town’s fall comes a day into the fourth year of Syria’s conflict, which has killed more than 146,000 people.

The UN’s refugee agency says nine million Syrians have been forced from their homes, creating the world’s largest displaced population.

More than 2.5 million Syrians have become refugees in neighbouring countries, and in excess of 6.5 million people are displaced inside the country.

The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr Eamon Gilmore TD, has condemned the growing humanitarian crisis in Syria and neighbouring countries.

“For three long years, the Syrian people have been subjected to the most appalling suffering as a result of a simple, peaceful demand for greater political and economic freedoms,” he said.

Only a negotiated outcome can bring an end to this conflict. I urge all sides to accept the proposals of Joint Special Representative Brahimi for the renewal of fully inclusive peace talks within the Geneva II framework.

Ireland has already committed over €26 million in humanitarian relief to Syria since the beginning of this conflict.

- © AFP, 2014 – Additional reporting Aoife Barry

Read: Mohamad Almasalmeh witnessed one of the first killings of Syrian conflict>

Read: Three years on and tens of thousands dead: Syria’s bloody civil war continues>

About the author:

AFP

Read next:

COMMENTS (20)