Syrian army troops on Wednesday killed 175 rebels, many of them al-Qaida-linked fighters, in an ambush described as one of the deadliest attacks by government forces against fighters near Damascus, according to state media.
An opposition group said the dawn ambush — part of a government effort to secure the capital — was carried out by the Lebanese Hizbullah terrorist group, which has been instrumental in helping President Bashar Assad’s regime push back rebels entrenched in the suburbs of the capital city.
Syrian state news agency SANA quoted a field commander in the eastern Ghouta area as saying most of the rebels killed in the assault near Oteibah lake southeast of Damascus belonged to the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front rebel group. The report said several of those killed were foreign fighters who came to Syria from Saudi Arabia, Chechnya and Qatar.
SANA said the operation dealt “a smashing blow to terrorists,” a term Syrian state media uses for rebels.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 152 rebels were killed, most of them Nusra Front and other fighters from Islamic brigades. “This is the heaviest loss for Nusra Front and Islamic brigades since the start of the revolution,” said Rami Abdurrahman, director of the rights group.
The Observatory, which has been documenting Syria’s nearly three-year conflict by relying on activists’ reports on the ground, said Hizbullah fighters backed by Syrian troops carried out the ambush. Few other details emerged.
In Damascus, Assad met Wednesday with Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of the influential Iranian parliamentary committee on national security and foreign policy, who appealed for a political solution to the conflict.
At a news conference, Bouroujerdi said he discussed the latest military developments with Syrian officials.
Meanwhile, the international mission to rid Syria of its chemical weapons said that a batch of sulfur mustard, known as mustard gas, was shipped out of the country Wednesday.