Forces loyal to the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria today announced that they had pushed opposition fighters out of Qara, a mountain town that both sits on the road between Damascus and Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, and that has for years served as a key transit point for rebels. If confirmed – and indications over the last few days gave little reason to doubt that the Syrian army was steadily eroding rebel positions in Qara – the victory would mark the latest advance in what has become a systematic march to Aleppo.
The situation is growing dire:
Securing the highway would help Assad consolidate his power bases, while also clearing a route to transport chemical agents out of the country under a U.S. and Russian-backed program to eliminate its chemical weapons arsenal. The Syrian military statement said the army “eliminated a large number of terrorists who were holed up in the town and … tried to target the Damascus-Homs highway and block traffic on this vital artery.” It said the army’s gains had reinforced its control over supply lines up to the border with Lebanon, closing off a weapons smuggling route used by opposition rebels.
The army’s offensive in the Qalamoun mountains surrounding Qara – enabled and backed by Hezbollah fighters – threatens to trigger a new refugee crisis [French] that would see nearly 20,000 civilians may be driven into Lebanon.
Jean Ogassapian, a Lebanese politician closely linked to the country’s anti-Syrian March 14th movement, declared that Hezbollah’s continued support of the Syrian army, especially in the Qalamoun regime, risked “catastrophic repercussions in Lebanon” and a “total sectarian war.”
Even elements in Lebanon traditionally aligned with the Iran-backed terror group have in recent weeks called for the organization to disentangle itself from the Syrian conflict lest Lebanon be dragged further into the two and a half year war.
[Photo: Freedom House / Flickr]