Syrian warplanes pounded a rebel-held town near the Lebanese border yesterday, activists said, in an apparent attempt to dislodge opposition fighters from the area and consolidate control over the border region.
Yabroud is the last rebel stronghold in Syria’s mountainous Qalamoun region. Backed by Lebanon’s Hezbollah fighters, the Syrian army has been on a crushing offensive there since early December last year.
Yesterday’s assault on Yabroud comes a day after a tense session between government officials and opposition leaders at peace talks in Geneva, Switzerland. There were no immediate plans for a meeting between the delegations yesterday after government representatives and opposition leaders traded bitter accusations over the talks’ failure to take off a day earlier.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported heavy fighting in Yabroud between troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and rebels trying to overthrow him. The observatory said warplanes have carried out 10 airstrikes.
Yabroud has been controlled by the opposition for much of Syria’s nearly three-year conflict. Lebanese Sunni Muslims have moved through the town to join Syrian rebels in battles against al-Assad’s forces, bringing in weapons and supplies for opposition fighters from Arsal, a town on Lebanese side of the border.
Hezbollah fighters have been key to the Syrian army’s success in the border region. In June last year, the Iran-backed group helped al-Assad’s forces regain control of the town of al-Qusayr. Its fall tipped the balance of power in the Syrian conflict in al-Assad’s favor.
Meanwhile, more civilians were expected to leave the embattled city of Homs before an extended ceasefire expired at midnight, the Syrian Red Crescent said in a statement.
The statement said Red Crescent staff entered the city earlier yesterday to deliver 190 food parcels and 190 bags of flour.
In Switzerland, Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Gennady Gatilov arrived in Geneva and met with UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi, who was pessimistic over any progress at the talks.
On Tuesday, Brahimi said that “we are not making much progress.”
A three-way meeting between Brahimi, Gatilov and US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman is scheduled to be held in Geneva today to discuss the deadlock.