Syrian government troops, bolstered by Hezbollah militants and officers of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), are continuing a recently-launched offensive in southern Syria. Opposition forces had been making inroads in the region, but on Tuesday the pro-regime forces had “taken a string of villages and hills” along the border of the Israeli Golan Heights.
Quoting Al-Quds Al-Arabi, a London-based Arabic daily, Lebanon’s Now Media reported that more than 4,500 Syrian soldiers, reinforced by hundreds of Hezbollah fighters and IRGC officers, were involved in the offensive. The purpose of the offensive is reportedly to cut communications networks between rebel-held areas. According to a source close to the Free Syrian Army, the Syrian military handed the offensive over to a joint Hezbollah-IRGC command.
As Reuters observed, “[t]he south is one of the last remaining areas where mainstream, non-jihadist rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad have a foothold. Just a short drive to Damascus, the area remains a risk to the Syrian leader, who has otherwise consolidated control over much of the west.”
As-Safir, a pro-Hezbollah and pro-Assad Lebanese newspaper, called the offensive “statement number two,” as a prelude to a larger counter-attack on the southern front, with statement number one being the Hezbollah attack on Israeli troops on the Israel-Lebanon border that took place on January 28. Two Israeli soldiers, Captain Yohai Kalangel, 25, and Sergeant Dor Nini, 20, were killed in that attack.
Iran and Hezbollah have provided firm support to the Assad regime during the Syrian civil war, which has claimed the lives of at least 200,000 people. Hezbollah has deployed thousands of fighters to Syria to fight alongside Bashar al-Assad. Hezbollah and Iranian support has been critical to the regime’s survival, and was particularly evident in the seizure of Qusayr, a city in western Syria that was captured by the regime from rebel forces in June 2013. Analyst Jeffrey White of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy called Qusayr “a battle the regime must win,” because of the city’s strategic location between Homs and the Mediterranean coast and because “a victory would boost [the regime’s] resilience and affirm the commitment of its supporters.”
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