The Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, launched an attack on Hezbollah positions near the Syrian town of Flita along the Lebanese border yesterday. According to The Daily Star, a Lebanese publication, four Hezbollah fighters and five Syrian regime fighters were killed in the assault. The number of casualties on Al Nusrah’s side is not immediately clear, but Reuters quoted Lebanese and Syrian sources that said “15 members of Al Qaeda’s wing were killed.” This tally is not confirmed and Al Nusrah has not released any information on its casualties.
In photos posted to Twitter, the Al Nusrah Front said that its fighters “conquered al Masroob point which belong [sic] to Iranian Hezbollah.” The al Masroob point is a location in the Qalamoun region of the Damascus countryside near the Lebanese border. A few hours after its claim of victory, the jihadist group said its forces retreated from the point after “burning it and seizing the weapons and ammunition.” Reuters notes that the Syrian military responded to the attack by shelling Al Nusrah positions with mortar rounds. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that clashes were still ongoing in the area yesterday evening.
Hezbollah, which is Iran’s proxy in Lebanon, has sent thousands of troops to Syria in order to assist the Assad regime. The group has fought alongside regime forces against various rebel groups, including Al Nusrah and the Islamic State. Hezbollah has also clashed with Al Nusrah and elements of the Islamic State over the border in Lebanon. In August 2014, the rival groups fought in the Lebanese border town of Arsal. A few months later, Al Nusrah and Hezbollah battled again in Lebanon, this time in Brital.
In light of Hezbollah activity in Syria, both Al Nusrah and the Islamic State have taken Lebanese hostages to use as bargaining chips against the Lebanese government. In its propaganda, Al Nusrah has said that the families of the captives should blame Iran and Hezbollah for the executions of Lebanese prisoners. [For more on Al Nusrah taking Lebanese hostages, see LWJ report, Al Nusrah Front propaganda focuses on Iranian influence in Lebanon, Syria.]