The Syrian army and Hezbollah are in a state of alert and readiness in Qalamoun and its surroundings, especially the regions of al-Jebbah and Assal al-Ward in the northern countryside around Damascus after the fierce attack launched by militant groups led by the emir of Jabhat al-Nusra in Qalamoun, Abu Malik Talli, a few days ago.
The signs of the battles are still apparent; the bodies of insurgents lay on the ground, covered with sand, at the entrance Assal al-Ward, along with destroyed military equipment. Dense apple orchards spread out both sides of the road in Assal al-Ward — known for its apples — separating the road leading to one of the most important military points between al-Jebbah and Assal al-Ward. The point reached by As-Safir is a dangerous front line, especially since the region has witnessed heavy fighting and may be attacked at any time. The Syrian army and the (pro-regime) resistance fighters are deployed here overlooking militants infiltration points. From here the scene of the attack is clearer. This point has contributed significantly to the direct hits in the militants' ranks, in a fierce battle that lasted from the early morning until night. This battle benefited from heavy fire support — through the use of all kinds of missiles including TOW, Cornet and Concourse, in addition to the artillery rockets. The sounds of artillery shelling targeting militants deployed in the barren lands could be heard from other sites.
But it seems that the large-scale operation carried out by the militant groups in the past week was inseparable from the attack by the same groups in the barren lands of Brital in Lebanon. A security source revealed Abu Malik Talli’s plan to occupy Qalamoun after getting the green light for this operation by the regional parties to As-Safir.
According to the source, “Abu Malik met with all the armed factions, in the presence of representatives of the Islamic State (IS). A preliminary meeting took place to discuss the situation of displaced families of militants and the need to take an initiative to deal a heavy blow to Hezbollah through unified efforts before winter comes. In the second meeting, the operation and implementation plan were set and it was agreed to carry out the plan along two axes to distract the army. The first axis in Brital’s barren lands aims at draining Hezbollah and opening a pathway for militants. In parallel, a large-scale attack was to be launched on the second day to strike the defense points of the Syrian army and resistance in Assal al-Ward and al-Jebbah. Then, the biggest plan would be implemented by occupying the two villages and neighboring towns. Indeed, violent confrontations took place between Hezbollah and Jabhat al-Nusra’s militants in Brital’s barren lands, during which some points were targeted. But, the attack failed, even though it claimed the lives of resistance martyrs. Then, the large-scale operation started.
At the second meeting the implementation plan was set. The operation was to be carried out in Brital to strike and mainly drain Hezbollah forces, then to open a passage. In parallel, a large-scale attack would take place on the second day against where the defensive positions on the Syrian side would be targeted and the large scale plan would be implemented to occupy al-Jebbah, Assal al-Ward and some neighboring villages. This operation would provide shelter for the militants in winter, and most importantly, it would get their displaced families out of Arsal.”
The source stated that before the attack on Brital’s barren lands, IS withdrew from the plan without revealing its reasons.
The same source noted that, “If it weren’t for the massive deployment of the army and Hezbollah and the vigilance of the fighters in the village, the militants would have taken over.”
Implementing the large-scale operation and thwarting militants
A field commander told As-Safir the details of what happened on the military level.
In the early morning hours Thursday [Oct. 9], “Around 150 militants coming from Arsal and al-Jebbeh barren lands attacked basic defense points for the Syrian army and Hezbollah in al-Jebbeh. A small number of individuals arrived at the farms in Assal al-Ward and benefited from the presence of caretakers guarding these farms to advance.” According to the source, “Between one mountain and another there is a valley, and small numbers cannot be tracked. But, we managed to track them when the attack happened.” One of the points fell at the hands of militants, who managed to cut off the supply line between al-Jebbeh and Assal al-Wared.
According to the field commander, “After three hours, things turned upside down. The location was seized and the road was reopened. The attack of the militants to invade al-Jebbeh and Assal al-Ward took place over two phases. But, the fire support and the Syrian aircraft which targeted the militants forbade the second group of around 450 fighters from advancing. This group’s plan was to ensure the entry of the families quickly to the two villages.
The field commander added, “The second shock that the armed factions received was at a spot called Mazbalet el-Jebbeh in al-Jebbeh barren lands. There were 11 four-wheel-drive vehicles carrying dozens of wounded people and their leaders who were killed, while they met the second group that was ready to help.”
He continued, “The rockets fell intensely over the heads of the wounded and militants at this point. More than 50 people died, and the place was a mess, according to what was observed from the hills.” A security source stated that, “The news reached Abu Malik who was in the barren lands of Assal al-Ward in a primitive operation room — a cave and blue metal warehouse. Abu Malik insisted on proceeding with the operation, but he was faced with refusal, especially after the death of the attack’s leaders. He headed to his main location in Arsal’s barren lands.”
Days after the attack, curfews was imposed in Assal al-Ward and al-Jebbeh after 6 p.m. According to sources, this measure contributed to, “halting transmissions that were monitored by some of those who were sending coordinates to the militants.”
Field sources expect, “Limited attacks and a battle of attrition, with breaches here and there, after the failure of the grand scheme. On the other hand, the Syrian army and Hezbollah have new tactics and plans that will shock Abu Malik.”
The sources continued, “This failure weighed heavy on the armed factions and their families, which have had enough of the situation, while the militants are devastated, on both psychological and military levels.”
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