Pro-Hezbollah media claim that regime forces have continued to advance in the city, while pro-rebel outlets say the opposite
BEIRUT – Hezbollah casualties have mounted in the fierce back-and-forth fighting in Zabadani, as conflicting reports touting advances by both pro-regime and rebel forces in the strategic Syrian border town have emerged.
“Preliminary information indicates that Hezbollah has advanced in northwest Zabadani’s Zahraa district, losing four of its fighters in the latest clashes,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Wednesday morning. The monitoring NGO has recorded at least 8 Hezbollah casualties since the Zabadani offensive began on Sunday.
Pro-Hezbollah newspaper Al-Akhbar said the party and the Syrian regime had advanced in the town, but made no mention of any further deaths. For their part, rebels said more than a dozen Hezbollah fighters had been killed and claimed that the party was being pushed out of their besieged stronghold.
“Another day of field advances has been achieved by the Syrian army and the forces of the Lebanese resistance inside the town of Zabadani,” the Lebanese daily reported Wednesday morning.
“Army and resistance forces took control of several blocs–inside which the militants had been based–in northwest Zabadani’s Al-Zahra neighborhood after killing and injuring a number of militants.”
“The [two forces] also imposed firepower domination over the entirety of the Al-Sultani neighborhood’s main street (Jamal Abdul Nasser Street) to the southeast of the town.”
The paper added that “farms and a number of buildings” had been seized on both sides of the captured area.
Hezbollah being pushed back, rebels claim
Although pro-Hezbollah media reported that the party’s fighters and Syrian troops were advancing in Zabadani, pro-opposition outlets insisted that rebels had forced Hezbollah out of the Al-Jamaiyat district in the western part of the town.
Al-Souria Net reported late Tuesday that the clashes in Zabadani had intensified, leaving dozens of regime and Hezbollah fighters dead and injured.
“Fighting is taking place on a number of fronts, most fiercely on the Al-Jamaiyat front [in western Zabadani] where groups of Hezbollah fighters have fled under rebel fire,” media activist Fares al-Arabi told the outlet.
ARA News, in turn, quoted rebel sources as saying that the armed opposition in Zabadani had managed to recapture the Al-Jamaiyat district on Tuesday as well as “two Syrian regime-held checkpoints in the vicinity of the city.”
The SOHR, for its part, said Tuesday that militants had been able to recapture two buildings originally taken by Hezbollah and regime forces, without elaborating further.
Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television originally announced Sunday that Hezbollah and regime forces had completely seized the Al-Jamaiyat quarter of the town.
Hezbollah and the Syrian Army’s Fourth Mechanized Division stormed into the west and southeast of Zabadani on Sunday following days of intense barrel bombing and missile strikes on the rebel-held town northwest of Damascus.
In a fiery audio statement, Al-Nusra Front’s Emir in western Qalamoun promised to avenge Hezbollah’s attack on Zabadani and accused the party of mistreating civilians.
“You have supported the Nusairi regime, and shown your intense hatred of the Sunni people,” Abu Malik al-Talli said in the recording.
“You arrested their women and let down those of them who took refuge in your houses.”
“Do not think that you are safe from the anger of those who you have oppressed, even if [you are not in immediate danger].”
Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah is expected to deliver a speech on Friday for the occasion of Al-Quds Day, the last Friday of the month of Ramadan.
Syrian opposition sources told Alaraby Aljadeed that they believe the party is aiming to make significant progress in Zabadani prior to Nasrallah’s address.
As the fighting in Zabadani continued, a pro-regime outlet reported that rebels in control of the spring that provides most of Damascus’s drinking water had shut off pipelines to the capital following a threat to do so if the regime offensive was not called off.
Al-Masdar Press reported Tuesday evening that the water had been cut off from the Ayn al-Fijeh spring in Wadi Barada northwest of Damascus, “leaving millions in the Syrian capital in dire need for water.”
Al-Akhbar highlighted the danger earlier Tuesday, writing that “feelings of concern have dominated the Damascene street.”
“The threat by Wadi Barada’s militants to cut off the Syrian capital’s water supply if the Zabadani operation… does not stop has cast its shadow on Damascenes, who are waiting for a safe end to the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.”
On Sunday, the Wadi Barada Shura Council announced in a statement that water piped from the Fijeh spring to Damascus would be cut off in an attempt to make regime forces halt their attack.
Syrian rebels first seized Wadi Barada and the town of Ayn al-Fijeh in February 2012, after which they negotiated a cautious truce with the Syrian regime to retain control over the area in exchange for not cutting off the water supply or destroying the spring while regime technicians were allowed to continue working.
However, the tenuous agreement has frayed on several occasions, with rebels cutting off water at least three times to pressure the regime to stop shelling Wadi Barada, release detainees or open access to aid, including in November 2014 when drinking water to Damascus was turned off for four days.