Military developments in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights have drawn attention away from developments in the majority-Christian town of Mhardeh, in the countryside of Hama. The Syrian army expanded its control around the town, while Jabhat al-Nusra and armed Islamic groups waged a new battle in Quneitra, and factions in eastern Ghouta decided to unite under one leadership — a move that raised many questions.
Opposition field sources said that armed groups gained control of the old city of Quneitra and the Quneitra crossing point with the occupied Golan Heights. No official comment was issued on the events. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in a statement, “Fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic battalions took control of the Quneitra crossing after violent clashes with the army.”
Jabhat al-Nusra, along with Fallujah-Houran Brigade, Syria Revolutionaries Front, Saraya al-Jihad, Bayt al-Maqdis and Ahrar al-Sham, began a battle called “the real promise” to seize control of the devastated city of Quneitra and the crossing connecting it with the Golan Heights. The Israeli army announced that one of its soldiers was injured by Syrian fire, pointing out that the Israeli army replied by bombing two army positions in the Syrian Golan Heights.
A source familiar with the developments in the region said the recent battle was not militarily significant, except that a larger area of the [border] with the Golan has fallen under the control of armed groups. Regarding the possibility of advances toward the new city of Quneitra, as was promoted by some opposition circles, the source believed this was impossible in light of the deployment of many military troops, such as the 90th Brigade and 7th Division; the existence of military headquarters in the city; and, the fortifications on Mount Hermon overlooking the entire Golan. Moreover, several towns and villages, such as Khan Arnaba and Hamdani, constitute the main lines of defense for the city of Quneitra.
The source was surprised by the participation of Islamic factions in the battle, since they were absent for months from the fighting in the southern region, especially in Daraa, before simultaneously deciding to participate alongside the Syria Revolutionaries Front, its most bitter enemy. “All this comes in conjunction with the relative calm in the Houran area, which is no longer witnessing any military operations, with the exception of an ambush by the army a few days ago, killing dozens of militants,” the source said.
In the Hama countryside, Jabhat al-Nusra's attack on the town of Mhardeh failed following a counterattack by the army. The latter was able to restore checkpoints on the road between Mhardeh and Halfaya, which is the main launching point for the attack on the majority-Christian Mhardeh.
In Damascus, calm has been restored to the district of Barzeh following tensions two days ago. A local source said that a quarrel between two individuals evolved into beating and stabbing before the intervention of an armed force. Moreover, an army checkpoint was fired upon and the roads leading to the district were closed. Barzeh witnessed a truce between the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian government.
In eastern Ghouta, the brigades of Jaysh al-Islam, Ajnad al-Sham, Al-Rahman Legion, Alhabib al-Mustafa and Ahrar al-Sham have merged into one armed group.
According to a statement issued by the representatives of these factions, “The Unified Military Command in Ghouta was formed under the leadership of Zahran Alloush as commander and Abu Muhammad al-Fatih as his deputy. This unified military command will work to unify efforts, break the siege on eastern Ghouta, support the unified judiciary, ensure the security of eastern Ghouta and hold all criminals accountable.”
It is considered the largest union of armed factions in the Damascus countryside. However, numerous questions arose about the absence of Jabhat al-Nusra from the Unified Command and the fate of the Islamic Front and the recently formed Revolutionary Command Council, in particular since the new entity was led by Zahran Alloush, the leader of the Islamic Front, which included Jaysh al-Islam and Suqour al-Sham.