Fall of Yabrud

March 17, 2014 - 4:29:36 am
The capture of the rebel bastion of Yabrud by the Syrian forces yesterday is certain to change the course of the Syrian uprising. One by one, the regime forces have been capturing the rebel-held areas. If the rebels were able to make all their gains in the beginning of the uprising, which at one time was promising that even the capture of Damascus was considered imminent, it’s President Bashar Al Assad who has been laughing for many months. The opposition has been stopped in their tracks, and if a miracle doesn’t happen, the Syrian revolution will soon be inscribed as a failure in history books.

The army, with support from Lebanon’s Hezbollah, has seized full control of Yabrud. Experts called it both a strategic and symbolic blow for the opposition in the Qalamoun region along the Lebanese border. And it comes at a crucial time: a day after the third anniversary of the outbreak of Syria’s conflict. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group relying on a network of contacts inside Syria, said Hezbollah had led the operation and that fighting was ongoing on the outskirts of the town.

Yabrud’s fall is likely to worsen the problems for opposition. It is a strategic prize because of its proximity to the highway and the Lebanese border, across which rebels have smuggled fighters and weapons. The capture of the town, and continuing army operations in the surrounding area, will sever important supply lines for the rebels as they face army advances on different fronts. The town’s seizure could also pile new pressure on Arsal, which is hosting at least 51,000 Syrian refugees, many from the Qalamoun region. Sunni Arsal is considered largely sympathetic to the Sunni-led uprising, and rebel fighters are believed to have rear bases in areas around the town, which are regularly targeted by Syrian warplanes.

The latest development also points to the seminal role of Hezbollah in this conflict. That the Lebanese Shia group spearheaded the operation proves their military acumen, sophistication and expertise. Assad’s forces have been able to make most of their gains after Hezbollah joined them on the ground. And the feared Shia group is bringing its experience in defeating the most-modern Israeli army.

Hezbollah’s role is expected to further widen the existing divisions between the group and its Sunni rebels in Lebanon. Its involvement in Syria has prompted bomb attacks by extremist groups against areas in Lebanon sympathetic to the movement, killing mostly civilians. Also, the group and Lebanese security forces have said many of the car bombs used in those attacks originated in Yabrud.

As days pass, the Syrian battleground is becoming a graveyard for the opposition. Assad could be dreaming of the days when his reign returns.