Last updated: 21 March, 2013

Syrian rebels gain ground in Golan, says watchdog

Syrian rebels have gained ground in the Golan Heights, which is partly occupied by Israel, launching coordinated attacks in the area and in nearby Daraa province, a watchdog said on Thursday.

“It appears that the rebels launched coordinated attacks on multiple parts of the Golan, taking control of areas and villages in the province of Quneitra,” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

Overnight, the Observatory said, “rebels took control of the Mashati al-Khodr and Dawar Khan Arnaba regions, as well as artillery bases” after heavy fighting in Quneitra province.

“Violent clashes have also been under way since this morning in the areas of Sahem and Wadi al-Yarmuk” in Daraa province in southern Syria, the group said.

Rebels seized an officers’ club in Jaline village, “after the withdrawal of soldiers,” while regime forces shelled the town of Sahem al-Jolan.

Syrian state television, meanwhile, in a news bulletin said the “armed forces restored security and stability to the towns of Al-Talal al-Hamr, Al-Sharqiya and Khan Arnaba after eliminating several Al-Nusra Front terrorists.”

Lebanese security sources told AFP that around 220 Syrians, including several wounded, had crossed the border from southern Syria over the past 24 hours.

The offensive came as a security official in Damascus told AFP some 2,500 trained and equipped rebels had entered the Daraa region in recent weeks.

The region borders Jordan, which the Damascus regime has accused of facilitating the flow of weapons and fighters.

Earlier this month, the German magazine Der Spiegel reported rebels were being trained in Jordan by American specialists, a claim US officials have refused to comment on.

Louay Moqdad, a spokesman and coordinator for opposition forces, was circumspect on the claims.

“Several states including the US, the Europeans and several Arab countries have offered training to the rebels but I cannot say where or when,” he told AFP.

“Some of these states have started to give this training,” he acknowledged, without elaborating.

Last week, a Syrian security official said Jordan had “opened its borders,” allowing fighters and weapons to cross into Syria.

“There’s been a change of attitude because up until now, Jordan had imposed strict controls on its border to prevent the passage of terrorists and weapons,” said the source, blaming “pressure by countries that are hostile to Syria” for the change.

The Observatory said at least 43 people had been killed throughout the country on Thursday, including at least three people killed when a car bomb exploded in Homs province.