Executive Summary for July 21st

We review the key developments in Syria, including the start of a military operation by Hezbollah and the Syrian army, a rebel ambush outside Damascus, and reports that a U.S. decision to halt aid to rebel groups will empower the radical opposition.

Published on July 21, 2017 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Hezbollah and Syrian Army Launch Border Offensive

The Lebanese group Hezbollah and the Syrian army launched a joint offensive against militant groups hiding out in a rugged mountainous section of the Lebanon-Syria frontier on Friday, Reuters reported.

The operation targeted insurgents, including extremists linked to al-Qaida, in the outskirts of the border town of Arsal and the western Qalamoun mountain range, a commander in the military alliance supporting President Bashar al-Assad told Reuters.

The launch of the offensive was also reported by Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV.

Some 3,000 militants, including al-Qaida-linked insurgents and members of the so-called Islamic State, are said to be holed up near Arsal, which has been buffeted by the war in Syria since 2011.

Militants seized the town briefly in 2014, when several Lebanese servicemen were abducted. The town has been kept under restrictive guard since then by the Lebanese army and Hezbollah.

Rebel Ambush Kills More Than 20 Pro-Assad Fighters

At least 28 loyalists of President Assad were killed in an ambush by a hard-line Syrian rebel group in the eastern suburbs of Damascus on Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

According to the United Kingdom-based monitoring group, members of the Jaish al-Islam group attacked pro-government forces who were trying to advance on rebel positions south of the town of Douma.

Intense fighting between government forces and rebel groups has gripped the opposition-held suburbs of Damascus in recent days.

Syrian government forces and their allies have been trying to storm the eastern suburbs of Damascus, known as Eastern Ghouta, but have struggled to penetrate opposition defenses.

Rebels: Jihadists to Benefit from Halting of U.S. Aid

The Trump administration’s decision to end covert CIA assistance to Syrian opposition groups risks empowering hard-line extremists in Syria, rebels told Reuters on Thursday.

A Free Syrian Army (FSA) commander said both President Assad and al-Qaida-linked militants would stand to gain from the decision, which serves to weaken Syria’s moderate rebel groups.

“Certainly this decision will have results and consequences on the Syrian scene, particularly in the north and the south. The halt of support to the FSA by the international community is a factor in the escalation of Assad’s strength and the strength of the extremist groups,” he told Reuters.

The latest Washington decision deals a blow to Syria’s embattled rebel groups who have been battered by defeats and divisions over the past year.

A United States official who spoke to Reuters on the condition of anonymity described the move as “a signal to [Vladimir] Putin that the administration wants to improve ties to Russia.”

The CIA program began in 2013 as part of early U.S. efforts to overthrow the Syrian government.

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