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Fall of Yabroud ushers critical developments in Lebanon

  • Soldiers loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad gesture at a Yabroud town square in the Damascus countryside, after taking control of it from the rebel fighters, in this handout released by Syria's national news agency SANA on March 17, 2014. (REUTERS/SANA)

The fall of Yabroud to the Syrian regime suggests that the military situation of opposition fighters in northern Syria has become very critical, especially in Aleppo where there are indications of Syrian forces gaining control.

Bad weather obstructed military jets from bombing Aleppo last week, hindering the progress of the Syrian army, which is about 3-15 kilometers from the area.

According to information available, should Aleppo fall under regime control, the parameters of the areas controlled by rebels will be clearer and the formation of a unified area outside the regime’s control will be prevented. This will eliminate the effectiveness of any group going up against the regime, and in this case, information suggests that Idlib will be besieged by the regime after it gains control of Aleppo and Latakia, which are geographically close, and Raqqa will be under the control of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, and Hassakeh with the Kurds.

Spillover from Syria into Lebanon is a result of the failure of Lebanese political powers to obey the disassociation policy adopted by former Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government, and regional parties don’t see the harm in taking advantage of the current situation to strengthen the opposition’s military capabilities.

As one Western diplomat said, the opposition has made use of the open borders between Lebanon and Syria to make it a vital space to sustain the rebel forces. Meaning, as a result of any pressures faced by the rebels in Syria by Hezbollah fighters, it is possible to spark trouble on the border areas between the two countries to distract the resistance, and decrease military operations against the opposition.

Sources point out that fighters allied with the Syrian regime are not only limited to Hezbollah fighters, which form the military elite, but there are also Shiite fighters with Syrian and Iraqi nationalities who have formed independent groups under Hezbollah’s control. They act as forces supporting the battalions controlled by Hezbollah.

In return, according to information provided by a security operative, a number of women belonging to ISIS – the Al-Khansa Women’s battalion – have entered Lebanon, and are headed by a Syrian known as Umm Hajer, the mother of an ISIS commander, Abu Omar Mabrouk.

Mabrouk hails from Aleppo and is also known as Sheikh Barrak.

There are six women in total, and they have moved to the neighborhoods of Burj Abi Haidar and Fakhani in Beirut, accompanied by a fundamentalist official of Palestinian nationality known as Assad M.A., who was born in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh.

According to sources, the women have been trained to use explosives, and are awaiting instructions to conduct the necessary operations.

Additionally, the Nusra Front in Lebanon has formed secret cells inside a number of areas in Beirut and in some Palestinian refugee camps. Included in its ranks are a number of foreign nationals as well as nine Lebanese, most of them hailing from Yabroud. They are trained in carrying out terrorist activities in coordination with a Syrian known as Hasan M.M. who works to provide fake IDs, which are prepared in Yabroud by Wafiq Mahmoud al-Aissa, a Syrian forgery expert who hails from the suburbs of Damascus and is known as Abu Mahmoud.

The outcome of Yabroud will manifest in two parts: Firstly in Arsal, which will witness battles of its own and an increase in rocket attacks, as well as an increase of rocket attacks on Labweh.

Secondly, in the Palestinian refugee camps, some of which are waiting for the green light for armed groups to emerge to clash with Hezbollah.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 18, 2014, on page 3.
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Summary

The fall of Yabroud to the Syrian regime suggests that the military situation of opposition fighters in northern Syria has become very critical, especially in Aleppo where there are indications of Syrian forces gaining control.

As one Western diplomat said, the opposition has made use of the open borders between Lebanon and Syria to make it a vital space to sustain the rebel forces. Meaning, as a result of any pressures faced by the rebels in Syria by Hezbollah fighters, it is possible to spark trouble on the border areas between the two countries to distract the resistance, and decrease military operations against the opposition.

Sources point out that fighters allied with the Syrian regime are not only limited to Hezbollah fighters, which form the military elite, but there are also Shiite fighters with Syrian and Iraqi nationalities who have formed independent groups under Hezbollah's control.


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