Hezbollah source: “A preliminary shelling for the long-anticipated operation” against fighters
- Claims of Another Regime “Toxic Gas” Attack Near Damascus
- Hayat Tahrir al-Sham Continues Attacks in NW But Faces Defection and Protests
The Assad regime’s forces and Hezbollah have launched attacks on both sides of the Syria-Lebanon border, declaring that they are going to clear fighters from the area.
A Hezbollah source said, “This might be a preliminary shelling for the long-anticipated military operation by Hezbollah to root out the militant groups from the outskirts of Arsal….Hezbollah militants are ready for the anticipated battle.”
The Assad regime’s warplanes, which have been bombing inside Lebanon over the past week, carried out more raids on Thursday, according to activists.
In summer 2014, Lebanese security forces fought for several days with Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra members near Arsal. An estimated 60 ISIS and Nusra fighters were killed. Twenty Lebanese forces were killed, 85 wounded, and more than 40 taken captive — four of whom were later executed, with some still missing.
At the end of June, the Lebanese army raided Arsal’s refugee camps, claiming that they were attacked by five suicide bombers and a sixth man with a hand grenade. Dozens of men were detained and beaten. Four soon died in custody, with photographs and activists casting doubt on authorities’ claims of death from natural causes and pointing instead to torture.
The pro-Assad army said the Lebanese army is not involved in the offensive. A Lebanese security source also said troops were deployed in a defensive posture: “If our positions are not attacked we will not initiate [fire].”
Earlier this week, Amnesty International urged the Lebanese army to “prioritise the protection of Lebanese residents as well as Syrian refugees in the area” during its operations.
“They must refrain from using lethal force except when it is unavoidable for self-defence or defence of others against threats of death and serious injury,” Amnesty’s Lynn Maalouf said on Tuesday. “Thousands of lives are on the line.”
Claims of Another Regime “Toxic Gas” Attack Near Damascus
Claims are circulating of yet another Assad regime “toxic gas” attack on Ein Tarma, near Damascus.
Pro-Assad forces have been trying for weeks to break through rebel lines in the suburb. The use of chemicals, probably chlorine, has been reported on a regular basis on Ein Tarma and on nearby Jobar in the northeast of the capital. Scores of people have been treated for suffocation.
Activists reported the latest attack on Thursday, showing video:
Hayat Tahrir al-Sham Continues Attacks in NW But Faces Defection and Protests
The Hayat Tahrir al-Sham bloc continued its attacks on a rebel faction in northwest Syria on Thursday, but it also faced local protests and the defection of one of its groups.
HTS — which includes Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, formerly linked to Al Qa’eda — launched operations against the Ahrar al-Sham faction across Idlib Province and western Aleppo Province earlier this week, taking towns such as Salqin in Idlib Province. It has closed on the Bab al-Hawa crossing, the main entry/exit point on the Turkish border.
Nour ed-Din al-Zinki, a rebel faction which moved closer to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham from 2015 and then joined HTS, left the bloc on Thursday because of the attacks. It said HTS’s leaders had not adhered to Sharia law and had bypassed most of the members of the Shura Council.
Harakat Nur al-Din al-Zinki announces its breakaway from HTS for the following reasons:
English Translation pic.twitter.com/GuqlWJ803s
— PNN (@GIIMedia) July 20, 2017
Alongside Failaq al-Sham, ZInki subsequently offered to mediate a resolution to the HTS-Ahrar dispute.
Protests by residents were also reported in parts of Idlib Province, with claims that HTS had withdrawn fighters after facing demonstrations in Saraqeb.
Earlier in the day, activists said HTS fired on the protesters:
— انتهاكات جبهة النصرة (@JAN_Violations) July 20, 2017