Beirut and London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Syrian opposition battalions said they were seeking to embroil the regime in a “war of attrition” in Rif Dimashq, as reports said that American and British authorities were investigating claims of chemical weapons use by the Assad regime in Damascus and its environs.
Assad government forces backed by Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia have secured significant gains in the Rif Dimashq governorate in recent weeks, retaking the rebel-held towns of Yabroud and Rankous in Qalamoun and securing their grip on the Syrian–Lebanese border.
The director of Qalamoun’s media center, activist Amer Al-Qalamouni, told Asharq Al-Awsat that Syrian rebels continue to contest the area around Rankous and Yabroud.
“The opposition forces have scored victories against the government’s troops over the past two days, including destroying four tanks and troop carriers,” he said.
The media activist said that fighting in Qalamoun is turning into “guerilla warfare,” with rebel fighters seeking to inflict the greatest number of government troop casualties possible through irregular fighting.
He said that opposition fighters who had been driven out of Yabroud, Rankous and Maaloula have banded together to make a stand in Rankous and its environs, after taking a joint decision to confront the regime through guerilla attacks.
“The regime will tire in Qalamoun due to the long war of attrition being planned by the opposition fighters . . . A large number of rebels are moving to take part in this guerrilla warfare after being forced out of their positions in Rankous,” he said.
The confrontation over Qalamoun in Rif Dimashq comes as the Times of London reported that the US and UK are investigating new claims of chemical weapons use by the Assad regime in Damascus and its environs.
British officials told the Times they were looking for more information about four alleged attacks in Rif Dimashq between January and April. In addition, the newspaper reported that US and Turkish officials were also looking into claims that chlorine and pesticides were used against the opposition.
In comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, US National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said that Washington is aware of the reports of alleged use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime but did not possess any “confirmed information” about the allegations. She said that Washington is taking the reports seriously, and that the US is committed, in coordination with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the UN, to remove and destroy Syria’s chemical arsenal.