Syrian Army and Hezbullah Push back al-Qaeda as Christian Militia Mobilizes*
By Juan Cole
Smarting from a string of losses, the pro-regime coalition of Hezbullah and the Syrian Arab Army is looking for some victories against the al-Qaeda-linked Support Front (Jabhat al-Nusra). They seek them in the Qalamoun mountain range near the Lebanese-Syrian border, where Hezbullah was victorious last year this time. In the meantime, towns like Asal al-Ward had been infiltrated by the Support Front all over again.
Fighting in this area has the advantage that it makes Lebanon itself a form of strategic depth for the campaign that will be defended by the Lebanese Army, as Hezbullah and SAA forces fight just over the border into Syria. Likewise, the Christian population in the town of Ra’s Baalbak is throwing up its own militia for self-defense on the Lebanese side of the border and is allied with Hezbullah. This coalition of Shiite and Christian forces against al-Qaeda makes for a good image of Hezbullah inside Lebanon and may be aimed at countering the charge of Sunni leader Saad al-Hariri that Hizbullah is putting Iran’s strategic interests in Yemen and Iraq ahead of the safety of Lebanon.
The Support Front withdrew under pressure from the town of Assal al-Ward. Hezbullah and the Syrian Army then took three hills near al-Juba, 5 km northeast of Asal al-Ward. As they tell the story, on Thursday Hezbullah made incremental but steady advances against the rebel coalition
Earlier this week Hezbullah claimed to have killed several al-Qaeda/ Support Front leaders in al-Juba.