For the first time in the Syrian civil war, Assad’s army, Hizballah and the Lebanese army have joined forces in a combined cross-border operation for cleansing the Syrian-Lebanese border regions of jihadist strongholds. It focuses on the town of Arsal north of the Lebanese Beqaa Valley and the Syrian town of Fleita in the Qalamoun Mountains of western Syria. Large concentrations of Syrian refugees sheltering outside the two towns have been deeply penetrated either by Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front or the Islamic State.
Hizballah is spearheading the offensive with tanks and artillery fire under Syrian air force support. The Lebanese army is charged with keeping armed Islamists from escaping across the border. Hizballah claimed substantial battle gains in its first statement Saturday. Lebanese sources say that Hizballah has sustained at least 12 fatalities in the battle.