By Eliezer Sherman
Hezbollah’s media arm claimed on Saturday that the group along with Syrian troops had pushed out rebel fighters from a critical buffer near the Syrian-Lebanese border, but the reported repulse appears to have come at a high cost for the Lebanese terror group.
Opposition fighters in Syria said that Marwan Mughniyeh, a senior commander whose cousin Imad Mughniyeh was reportedly killed by Israel in 2008, was killed in fierce clashes between Hezbollah and forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and Syrian opposition groups.
While Hezbollah neither confirmed nor denied Mughniyeh’s death, the group refuted rebel claims that it had sustained major losses – some reports said up to 60 fighters. It said only three of its fighters had been killed.
Reports of Mughniyeh’s death came amid an extended campaign in the Qalamoun mountain region, just northeast of Lebanon in Syria, by Hezbollah and Assad’s troops to drive opposition forces from the area.
Rebels also claimed to have killed dozens of Assad’s officers in the battle for the strategic range as well.
Hezbollah’s media arm, Al Manar, meanwhile claimed a successful operation, saying it had secured three hilltops in the area, in addition to five others seized since the campaign began on Tuesday.
Hezbollah said it had taken the largest base of Syrian opposition group Al-Nusra Front in the area, according to Al Manar.
The group said that Syrian troops and its fighters targeted a car-rigging factory in the region, and detonated three cars with Lebanese license plates rigged with explosives, according to the report.
If accurate, Mughniyeh’s death came on the heels of another high-ranking Hezbollah casualty, that of Qalamoun regional commander Ali Khalil Alia, whose death was reported by Arab media last Tuesday.
Hezbollah had reportedly been planning to launch an offensive in the area, but was ambushed by rebel fighters early last week, prompting the military response.
The Qalamoun mountain range serves as an important strategic pass between Syria and northeastern Lebanon, and was an anti-Assad rebel stronghold until battles this week.
The most recent U.N. figures estimated that at least 220,000 people have died since fighting erupted in Syria four years ago.