175 Syrian rebel fighters killed in an ambush

Filed on February 28, 2014

Forces loyal to Syria’s president killed at least 175 rebel fighters, most of them foreigners, in an ambush in insurgent-held eastern outskirts of Damascus.

The attack was led by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which has joined the government in a increasingly sectarian conflict that is pulling in fighters from across the region and destabilising Syria’s neighbours, said activists.

Lebanon’s Al Manar television, which Hezbollah operates, broadcast images of dozens of bodies of men strewn along a rural road running through open fields near Otaiba, a town in the Eastern Ghouta area outside Damascus.

It said the rebels were ambushed as they tried to leave the area to join fighting in other regions. But there were few other details on the attack and none of the reports said when it happened. The ambush would be a significant advance for President Bashar Al Assad’s efforts to cement his hold of the capital and surrounding roads, if the scale of the casualties is confirmed.

It also underlined the complexity of a fight where militant groups, some of them linked to Al Qaeda, have joined Syrian rebels against Assad. Assad has won the backing of Hezbollah and Iran.

Syrian state news agency Sana said most of those killed were Saudi, Qatari or Chechen nationals and belonged to Al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front or Liwa Al Islam, a Salafist Jihadi group that is one of the biggest and best organised rebel units fighting to topple Assad.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Hezbollah carried out the ambush in cooperation with Syrian government forces. “Hezbollah was the main group that implemented the ambush,” said Rami Abdulrahman, head of the Observatory, which is based in Britain but has a network of sources across Syria.

Al Manar said the fighters were trying to break out of Eastern Ghouta to join battles in either the town of Deraa or the Qalamoun mountains but it was not possible to confirm the report independently. The Eastern Ghouta region is a semicircle of rural towns outside Damascus, many of which have been cut off from food and other supplies for months by government forces.

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