BEIRUT: A Hezbollah ambush Sunday killed three rebels who were experts in preparing car bombs along with four of their bodyguards in the strategic Qalamoun region of Syria near the Lebanese border, a source close to the party said.
Also Sunday, a senior Hezbollah official said the Syrian army’s recent recapture of the town of Yabroud, the last strategic rebel stronghold in the Qalamoun mountains, would curb car bombings and suicide attacks in Lebanon.
“A special Hezbollah unit infiltrated 11 kilometers deep inside rebel-held territory in the Qalamoun region and planted bombs inside the garden of a house frequented by the three car-rigging experts,” the source told The Daily Star.
“When the three rigging experts arrived along with four bodyguards at 10:45 a.m. Sunday, the bombs were detonated, which resulted in the killing of the three along with their four bodyguards.”
The three rigging experts were identified as Ahmad Ali Hamra, Farid Mohammad Kheir Jumaa and Hussam Masoud Hammoud.
Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV, quoting a senior security source, said the military operation in Qalamoun targeted “security officials of an armed group responsible for sending bomb-rigged cars to Lebanon.”
The operation bears the hallmarks of Hezbollah’s use of roadside bombs against Israeli troops and their allied Lebanese militiamen during Israel’s 18-year occupation of a border strip in south Lebanon that ended in 2000.
Syrian regime forces, backed by Hezbollah fighters, recaptured the border town of Yabroud on March 16, dealing a heavy military blow to rebels and severing their supply lines from Lebanon.
It was the second major victory in the area after Syrian President Bashar Assad’s troops, also backed by Hezbollah fighters, captured the key rebel-held town of Qusair near the border with Lebanon last year.
Hezbollah officials have accused rebel groups entrenched in Yabroud of rigging vehicles with explosives and sending them to Lebanon.
Lebanon has been rattled by a wave of deadly car bombings and suicide attacks carried out by Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups targeting mainly Shiite areas in Beirut’s southern suburbs and the Bekaa Valley. The attacks also targeted the Iranian Embassy and the Iranian Cultural Center in Beirut.
Lebanese and Syrian Al-Qaeda-linked groups, such as the Nusra Front, the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) and the Abdallah Azzam Brigades, have vowed to attack Hezbollah and Iranian targets in Lebanon in retaliation for their intervention in Syria.
Hezbollah’s deputy leader Sheikh Naim Qassem said the defeat of Syrian rebels at the hands of Syrian forces, backed by Hezbollah fighters, in Yabroud would stem the wave of suicide and car bombings in Lebanon.
“Perhaps some are not paying much attention to the big achievement made in the Qalamoun region or Yabroud. These achievements will certainly reduce to a large extent the number of deadly cars and the devil’s suicide bombers,” Qassem told a memorial ceremony in Beirut’s southern suburbs.
Calling for additional vigilance against would-be suicide bombers, he said: “These are very important steps to protect Lebanon, its security, stability and independence.”
Yabroud is a strategic prize because of its proximity to the highway and the Lebanese border, across which the Syrian rebels have smuggled fighters and weapons.
Qassem called for Lebanese unity to face two dangers threatening Lebanon: one from Israel and the other from takfiri groups.
“These two dangers concern all the Lebanese and all residents in the Arab world and the Muslim world,” he said.
“ Israel attacks, occupies and confiscates lands and steps up its actions in harming the Palestinians,” Qassem said. “The takfiris attack, destroy and damage life. They do not carry any project except that of killings and ending human life on Earth.”
“We have to close ranks in order to face these two dangers,” he said. “God willing, we will be victorious.”