Large-scale Syrian and Hizballah troops launched a major assault Wednesday, Feb. 12, on Yabroud, the mixed Christian-Sunni Muslim town, 80 km north of Damascus, where Syrian rebel and Islamist forces have held out for more than a year. Yabroud is their last stronghold and the key to the strategic Qalamoun mountain range which straddles the Syrian-Lebanese border.
The Hizballah-Syrian force advanced with tanks, self-propelled artillery and air force.
debkafile’s military sources report that the fall of Yabroud to government forces would open the highway from Damascus to the besieged town of Homs and the Allawite regions loyal to the Assad regime in western Syria. It would also knock over a location, which Iranian Al Qods Brigades spies report is the source of the serial bombing attacks targeting Hizballah in Beirut and its command centers in Baalbek and the Beqaa Valley in recent weeks.
On the day of the Yabroud assault, Hizballah forces captured three women they believed to be suicide bombers on their way from the Beqaa to the Shiite suburb of Beirut. No further details were released about their identities.
The size of the forces assigned to the Yarboud offensive, starting with 17 air strikes on the town in six hours Wednesday, attests to the Syrian government’s determination to subdue the town in short order, to secure the highway links from Syria to Lebanon against rebel ambushes of the critical Hizballah supply convoys plying those routes, and cut the rebels’ own supply routes from Lebanon.
In anticipation of the onslaught, dozens of families streamed across the border to Lebanon.
The regime set the scene for the offensive by the capture in recent weeks of three towns northwest of Yabroud, Nabek, Deir Attiyeh and Qara.
Our military sources add that the offensive gained impetus from the government’s judgement that two months of indecisive fighting for control of the Qalamoun range has undermined morale at other battle sites. This judgment is confirmed by military experts in the West and also in Tehran.
The spread of low morale is believed to have infected the Assad-Hizballah forces massed around Aleppo, Syria’s largest town, and accounting for their reluctance to finally storm the town after long aerial bombardment.
The Assad regime calculates that a victory in Yabroud would revive the flagging spirit of its fighting forces, and also refute assessments of their waning capability. This has weakened the government’s position at the UN-sponsored conference attempting in Geneva to negotiate a political solution of the Syrian civil war.
These discussions are taking place in the shadow of the continually worsening humanitarian situation in Syria where millions of people are starving. Food and other aid deliveries are attacked by both sides. The world witnessed their plight as some 200 women, children and elderly people, clutching their last possessions, were allowed to walk out of the besieged rebel-hold Old Cit of Homs Wednesday under UN protection, joining several hundred taking advantage of a truce agreed on Friday.
Even these victims were targeted for sniper fire.
Of deep concern are the men of military age which government forces held back from the exodus and who are disappearing in its detention camps.
Wednesday night, Moscow again rejected a UN Security Council measure on Syria – this one a draft calling on all sides to allow aid workers and essential supplies access to beleaguered populations across the country. President Barack Obama blasted Russia as a “holdout” and suggested that by blocking the resolution, it too was responsible for starving civilians, along with the Syrian government.
A Russian foreign ministry spokesman snapped back that this was a "biased distortion.” He stressed that Russia’s role in helping achieve the Homs truce was critical and Moscow was just as concerned about the humanitarian situation in Syria as Washington.