Offensive by Syrian military pushes refugees into Lebanon
A long-expected Syrian government offensive to capture a key rebel-held region along the border with Lebanon appeared on Sunday to have begun, driving thousands of Syrians across the border to seek refuge in the Lebanese town of Arsal.
International aid officials said that what began as a trickle of refugees on Friday became a flood. As many as 20,000 people fled across the border before a Syrian government offensive to seize control of the strategic Qalamoun region, which straddles the Anti-Lebanon mountains that form the border between the two countries.
The area links the rebel-friendly Arsal with the Damascus suburbs and has long provided the rebels with a supply route to units besieging the capital.
“There's been heavy shelling throughout our positions in Qalamoun from regime bases along the highway,” said Abu Omar, a rebel activist speaking from Arsal, which is a supply base and safe haven for many rebel units in eastern Syria. “Families fear the regime is coming for the area and are fleeing to Lebanon.”
Arsal residents reached by phone confirmed that there had been a surge of refugees arriving in the city, whose normal population is 50,000 but whose size has nearly doubled from previous waves of Syrian refugees.
Lebanon hosts nearly 1 million Syrian refugees from the nearly three-year-old civil war. A government offensive into the Qalamoun region promises to send even more as the tough winter weather makes ordinary life in a war zone even more difficult.
“This is the most strategic battle of the war,” said Abu Omar about the importance of the fight. ⅛The rebels “have more than 25,000 men dug into fortifications to hold this area. If it is lost, then we will be cut off from the rest of Syria.”
“The war might be over” if Qalamoun is lost, he said.
The offensive — which had been long rumored but had yet to materialize before the area's harsh winter weather — begins as the Syrian government has recaptured a number of strategic positions held by the rebels, including key suburbs south and west of Damascus as well as the important crossroads hub of Qusayr, which fell at the beginning of the summer. Rebels credit the government's success to the presence among troops loyal to President Bashar Assad of fighters from Hezbollah, Iraq and Iran.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.