Hezbollah’s leader has claimed to have made significant progress in the ongoing clashes in the Qalamoun mountain range on the Syrian-Lebanese border, but warned that the battles are far from being over.
“A strong defeat was dealt to the armed militants and they left the areas of battlefield,” Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised address on Saturday night. “Around 300km was retrieved from the control of the militants, most of it is in Syrian territory.”
Yet analysts claimed that the Lebanese group, currently fighting in Syria alongside the Syrian government, was attempting to oversell the battle of Qalamoun in order to make up for the string of losses the group and the Syrian regime have faced in recent months.
The armed group, along with the Syrian army and other pro-regime outfits, have been embroiled in a series of clashes with fighters belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group and al-Qaeda’s affiliate the Nusra Front in the Qalamoun mountain range, which straddles both Syria and Lebanon.
“There were many battles that led to the defeat of the armed militants,” Nasrallah said, adding that it is far from over. “We are still at the heart of the battle.”
In a surprise move, Nasrallah revealed that 13 Hezbollah fighters and seven Syrian soldiers were killed in the recent battles, which started approximately 10 days ago. He said he was doing so in order to reveal what he called lies being perpetrated by opposition media channels who have claimed up to 150 Hezbollah fighters had been killed.
According to an analyst, Nasrallah’s speech was an attempt to cover up for the losses inflicted on the group in recent months; not just in Syria, but in Iraq and Yemen as well.
“The Iranians and Hezbollah are now in a declining phase across the region,” Sami Nader, a professor in politics at the University of Saint Joseph in Lebanon, told Al Jazeera.
“So they are in desperate need for an achievement to counterbalance their losses; they need to sell it to their constituents in order to justify the the continuing battle and involvement in Syria.
“Their community is under extensive pressure, and [Hezbollah] needs to sell them something,” he said.
The Syrian regime and Hezbollah have faced several key losses over several months, especially in Aleppo and Daraa, where they were unable to dislodge rebel fighters.
Syrian government forces have recently seen Idlib fall into the hands of al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch, the Nusra Front, while they are still fighting to regain the area of Jisr al-Shoghour.
“Given how the dynamics were in their favour last year, the tide has turned and it is for their detriment,” said Nader. “So Qalamoun is more of a media campaign than a real battle on the ground.”
Qalamoun is considered a strategic area for both the rebels and the Hezbollah-Syrian army alliance, as it links Damascus to Homs and the Syrian coast, as well as providing key supply routes.