Zabadani back to the forefront of Syria war

Syrian armed groups are trying to open a supply route.

al-monitor A fighter in the Islamist Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra talks on a walkie-talkie while carrying his weapon on al-Khazan front line of Khan Sheikhoun, northern Idlib province, May 17, 2014.  Photo by REUTERS/Hamid Khatib.

Topics covered

syrian army, syria, opposition, lebanon, border, arsal

Oct 15, 2014

The city of Zabadani has returned to the Syrian battle map after Jabhat al-Nusra in Qalamoun tried to penetrate Hezbollah’s sites in Lebanon’s Brital village. This highlights the attempt by the armed groups to open a supply route between Arsal and Zabadani that would go through the rest of the areas under their control in Qalamoun.

As winter approaches, the armed groups — which are present on the Lebanese and Syrian sides of the Qalamoun Mountains — have started to look for a way to escape the snow and bitter cold, as well as the military siege by the Syrian army and Hezbollah. Zabadani represents an escape route for them. It is located on a border point, 45 kilometers (28 miles) away from Damascus, next to the towns of Bloudan, Madaya and Biqqeen in Syria. At the administrative level, it is part of Rif Dimashq governorate, and geographically, it links Rif Dimashq to Qalamoun, as it extends toward Assal al-Ward, Rankous and Serghaya. On the Lebanese side, the eastern Lebanon mountain range that extends toward Brital, Arsal and Anjar separates it from the Bekaa and Baalbek.

A source on the ground explained to As-Safir the importance of Zabadani for the armed groups: “They are working hard to open and secure a supply route that links Assal al-Ward areas to the barren lands of Arsal, Brital and Zabadani. They are besieged now within this axis, particularly in Zabadani.”

The international road between Lebanon and Syria is totally secure and under the control of the Syrian army. Thus, it is difficult for the armed groups in Zabadani to have access to it, given that the army’s units are deployed on the various surrounding hills. They are also besieged within their area, which is located between two mountains, while their strength resides in their presence inside the old city and in the difficulty of engaging in a ground battle, given the narrow roads.

The area between central and eastern Qalamoun is a key part of the battles in the Zabadani-Brital axis. The starting point will be from al-Burj, which is the highest point in Zabadani and Bloudan at 2,580 meters [8,465 feet]. It overlooks the barren lands of Zabadani and the Barada Basin, down to the Bekaa Valley, Ham, Maaraboun and Nabi Chit, and to the north toward the center of Qalamoun, though Serghaya, Assal al-Ward and Flita, which is the last and most important stronghold of the armed groups in the Qalamoun Mountains.

The most important armed groups present in Zabadani include Hamza Bin Abdul Muttalib Brigade, which participated in various battles in Rif Dimashq, especially in Western Ghouta. It is part of Ahrar ash-Sham Battalion. According to the source on the ground, it is present in the barren land of Bloudan. The Islamic Front and Jabhat al-Nusra are also fighting in this area. Activists announced the formation of a joint operations room in Zabadani, which manages the military action within the city and its surroundings.

Bloudan is inseparable from Zabadani. A source who is a resident of the area told As-Safir that Syrian army units are located inside Bloudan, in addition to the national defense forces, Baath Brigades and the Syrian Nationalist [party] forces. According to the source, a commander of the national defense forces and his assistant were assassinated on the Bloudan-al-Sham road by an armed group. A clash occurred with the army units stationed in the area where ​​the assassination took place

Just like other Syrian cities, Zabadani is going through the laborious process of reconciliation. One day, hopes are up that the reconciliation will be completed, when militants, especially Zabadani citizens, hand themselves in to the Syrian state. Other days, optimism is low, and clashes between armed groups and Syrian army units break out.

A field source indicated that the battles along the whole Lebanese border are inseparable. The people, the geography and the social and economic relations are all intermixed. The battle of Qusair paved the way for the complete control of Homs. Qusair is a geographic extension of Akkar and represented in terms of a supply pathway and center for the armed factions. With the Qalamoun battle, Yabrud constituted a main prelude to the control of the Qalamoun Mountains, which are the primary hub for fighters in Rif Dimashq and for booby-trapped cars sent to Beirut. South Syria, along the axis of Daraa and the Golan Heights, is currently flaring, thus affecting the Shebaa Farms and Rashaya, adjacent to the Lebanese side. Moreover, the Israeli occupation has entered the confrontation by providing fire cover for these groups.

The late Lebanese writer Said Taki Eddine once said that the link between Syria and Lebanon should not exist. Qusair and Akkar, Yabrud and Arsal, Zabadani and Brital, the Golan Heights and Shebaa and the other border regions fall outside the borders and logic of the Sykes-Picot Agreement. For armed factions who are present in different regions, borders should not even exist.

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