The regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad has deployed thousands of troops, including Hizbullah fighters, for an offensive against rebel strongholds around Damascus.
The opposition has reported a massive regime operation to expel the rebel presence around Damascus. Assad’s military, backed by Hizbullah and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, was said to have surrounded several rebel strongholds south of the Syrian capital.
“They are staging military operations along 10 axes,” the opposition Syrian National Coalition said.
Opposition sources said Assad forces were ordered to exploit their
capture of the rebel hub of Qusair in early June with massive attacks on Sunni strongholds around Aleppo and Damascus. They said the regime assessed that the fall of Qusair would prevent military supplies and even rebels from reaching these two cities.
Much of the fighting around Damascus has taken place in the Zayabiyeh southeast of Damascus, regarded as a key rebel base. The sources said Hizbullah, with regional headquarters in Sayida Zeinab southeast of the capital, was playing a major role in ground operations with support from Syrian Army artillery and helicopters.
“Hizbullah fighters, who have a strong presence at Sayida Zeinab, are trying to seize control of villages near Zayabiyeh and Babila,” the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The sources said Hizbullah has also introduced its new Syrian proxy in the offensive around Damascus. They said more than 1,000 Shi’ite fighters from Abu Al Fadl Abbas Brigade, comprised of residents of villages near the Lebanese border, were sent to attack rebel targets.
“Now, regime troops and militiamen backed by Hizbullah and the Abu Al Fadl Abbas Brigade are deploying en masse, with dozens of military vehicles and tanks, rocket launchers and heavy machineguns,” the Syrian National Coalition said.
NATO, Arabs Discuss Arms To Syrian Rebels
NATO and Arab allies have agreed to high-level consultations on supplying heavy weapons to Syrian rebels.
Diplomatic sources said 11 foreign ministers from Arab and NATO states would meet in Qatar on June 22 to determine aid to the Sunni revolt against Syrian President Bashar Assad. They said the initiative stemmed from France, which wants immediate and large-scale arms supplies to the rebels.
“This will be the first meeting that will discuss operational support for the opposition,” a diplomat said.
The sources said the countries scheduled to attend the opposition summit in Doha included the foreign ministers of Britain, Egypt, France, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United States. They said the foreign ministers would review assessments of the Sunni revolt and the needs of those fighting the Assad regime.
The meeting of the foreign ministers was preceded by those of military specialists from the 11 countries, called Group of Friends of Syria. The sources said the experts reviewed options to fulfill the military requirements of the Sunni rebels amid the Assad offensive throughout Syria.
“There appears to be a consensus that the opposition must be helped immediately,” the diplomat said. “But there are not insignificant differences among the 11 over that help should entail.”