AFP- Syria’s air force struck the town of Qara near the Lebanese border on Sunday as loyalist forces tried to storm the town where rebels have taken up positions, a monitoring group said.
“Since the morning, the town of Qara has been hit by air strikes. Warplanes bombarded the town heavily yesterday. Regime troops are trying to storm it and to drive the rebels out,” said Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman.
The Britain-based group said opposition fighters in the town were determined to resist despite the pressure.
Pro-regime newspaper Al-Watan reported “the army hit the Qalamoun mountains hard, closing in on the terrorists around Qara,” using the government’s term for rebel fighters.
Violence in the Qalamoun area has intensified since Friday.
Both the regime, which is backed by fighters from powerful Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah, and rebels, including Al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadists, have bolstered their forces in the area.
Qalamoun, which has a strong rebel presence, is a strategic area because it borders Lebanon and is used by rebels as a rear base for operations around the capital.
For President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, it is important because it is on the road linking Damascus to the central province of Homs. It is also home to weapons depots.
For months, Qalamoun had mostly avoided the violence tearing other areas of the country apart, but in recent weeks parts of the town have been battered by near-daily shelling.
Lebanese authorities said on Saturday 1,200 families had fled Syria for the border town of Arsal, in eastern Lebanon. Most of them had come from Qara.
On Sunday, Arsal’s municipality chief Ali al-Hojairi told AFP that “more refugees are arriving. Many are sleeping in cars. They need shelter.”
More than 800,000 Syrians fleeing their country’s brutal civil war have taken refuge in Lebanon. Many suffer terrible shortages as local authorities and international agencies struggle to provide for them.
Elsewhere in Syria, mortar rounds slammed into neighbourhoods in central Damascus on Sunday, killing at least two people, the Observatory said.
Rounds hit the Kassaa, Bab Tuma and Zablatani neighbourhoods of central Damascus, as well as the main Baghdad Street and Abbasiyeen square, killing two people and injuring several others.
State media blames “terrorists” for the mortar attacks, which have increased in recent days.