Archive for the ‘Nursa Front’ category

German ambassador killed by Nusra jihadist

December 19, 2016

German ambassador killed by Nusra jihadist, DEBKAfile, December 19, 2016

(The author probably meant Russian ambassador rather than German ambassador. Update: DEBKAfile fixed it. Please see also, Video: Turkish Muslim screaming “Allahu akbar” murders Russian ambassador. — DM)

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The 22-year old Turkish special operations police officer Mevlut Mert Altintas, who assassinated Russian Ambassador Andrei Karlov in Ankara Monday, Dec. 12, was a member of the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s Syrian branch. Atlintas approached the ambassador as he gave a speech opening a photo exhibit in the Turkish capital and shot him in the back five times. After yelling “We die in Aleppo, you die here,” he recited sentences from an Arabic prayer which are Nusra’s anthem. He went on shouting “We made an oath to die in martyrdom…it is revenge for Syria and Aleppo.”

He is believed to have added: “Until they are safe, you will not taste safety. Get back, only death will take me from here.”

It is not clear if the killer was a member of the detail guarding the ambassador, or obtained access to the gallery because the guards knew him and did not stop him going up to his target. He was smartly turned out in a dark suit and tie (like the terrorists from Jordan who attacked a Tel Aviv market on June 8 and killed three people)

Moscow’s decision to substantially intervene in the Syrian war in September to save the Assad regime was prompted additionally by the outstanding combat performance of the Nusra Front rebels. Furthermore, according to new figures just released in Moscow, 2,000 Russian jihadists were killed on the Syrian front against Assad. DEBKAfile’s sources have found that the majority belonged to the Nusra Front.

Its members are being evacuated from Aleppo in large numbers in the last 24 hours, after being driven out of east Aleppo in a bitter defeat. The Nusra chief Mohammad al-Jawlani holds Russia and especially President Vladimir Putin responsible and views them as the group’s nemesis.

Since the assassin was killed, it will be difficult to establish whether he acted alone and who his contacts were in Turkey and Syria. It won’t be easy to discover if and how far Turkish Special Forces have been penetrated by Al Qaeda’s Nusra agents.

The very fact that one of those agents, a Turk, was admitted to an elite police outfit without being discovered by Turkey’s MIT intelligence service indicates how vulnerable Turkey is to insider attack by radical Islamist organizations.

DEBKAfile’s counterterrorism and intelligence sources report that the last three terrorist atrocities perpetrated in the Middle East attest to the increasing audacity of the Islamist organizations, and the incompetence of national counter-terror agencies to cope with this new wave of violence.

The Dec. 12, assault on the Coptic cathedral in Cairo, which left 25 dead, was conducted by an ISIS team from Raqqa in Syria, which spent some time in the city without discovery.

Sunday, Dec. 18, saw a string of terrorist attacks in Jordan, in which 10 people were killed that were also tied to ISIS. And the next day, Monday, the Russian ambassador to Turkey was assassinated by an operative of Al Qaeda’s Nusra front.

Also on Monday, a truck crashed into a Christmas market in Berlin, killing several people, in what appears to be part of the holiday offensive threatened by ISIS in Europe as well as the Middle East. A similar Islamist truck attack in the summer holiday in Nice, the French Riviera, killed 87 people. .

Jihadists and other rebels claim to have broken through siege of Aleppo

August 8, 2016

Jihadists and other rebels claim to have broken through siege of Aleppo, Long War Journal, August 7, 2016

Shortly after Al Nusrah Front announced on July 28 that it was relaunching its operations under the name Jabhat Fath Al Sham (“Conquest of the Levant Front”), jihadists, Islamists and other Sunni rebel groups began an offensive to break the siege of Aleppo.

Bashar al Assad’s forces and their Iranian allies, backed by Russia, had been squeezing the rebel held part of the city since earlier this year. The Syrian regime and its partners cut off a key supply road in the north during fighting in June and July, thereby encircling their opponents.

The insurgents orchestrated an offensive to break the blockade focusing on areas in the southern part of Aleppo, including the Ramousa district, which houses key military installations. The insurgents’ offensive is one of their largest undertakings since the beginning of the Syrian war, drawing together the resources of more than 20 factions and organizations. It obviously required extensive planning to coordinate the actions of so many groups.

On Aug. 6, just over one week after the battle began, the opposition to Assad claimed to have broken through the defensive positions manned by the Syrian regime and allied paramilitary forces. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), however, the fighting continues and Russia is bombing the area in an attempt to prevent the insurgents from consolidating their gains.

The effort to break the siege has been led by two coalitions: Jaysh al Fath (“Army of Conquest”) and Fatah Halab (“Aleppo Conquest”). Many of the constituent groups in each alliance streamed videos and released photos from the fighting on their social media pages.

Jaysh al Fath (“Army of Conquest”) and allied jihadist groups

Jaysh-al-Fath-Logo-300x300

Jaysh al Fath was formed by Al Nusrah, Ahrar al Sham, and other organizations in early 2015. The coalition quickly swept through the city of Idlib and the surrounding areas in a matter of weeks. Jaysh al Fath has led multiple other battlesthroughout Syria, with Al Nusrah (now Jabhat Fath Al Sham, or “JFS”) and Ahrar al Sham always leading the charge. Ahrar al Sham models itself after the Taliban and has its own links to al Qaeda.

Suicide bombers dispatched by JFS played a key role in the fight for southern Aleppo. Early on in the battle, JFS launched two “martyrdom” operations using vehicle borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) at a location identified as Al Hikmah school. The official Twitter feed for JFS reported on July 31 that the VBIEDs targeted Assad’s loyalists. The jihadists quickly swarmed the area, claiming to have captured it.

JFS continued to launch suicide operations in the days that followed. On Aug. 5, a “martyr” identified as Abu al Baraa struck another location. JFS released a short of video of Abu al Baraa discussing his dedication to the cause, followed by footage of him driving his vehicle to the scene of the attack. On Aug. 6, JFS Twitter feeds advertised still another “martyr,” Abu Yaqub al Shami, who drove his VBIED into a Shiite-held location in Ramousa.

Jaysh al Fath’s member organizations, including JFS and Ahrar al Sham, celebrated their capture of a series of Syrian military colleges that were used as fortified bases in Ramousa. Jaysh al Fath’s battle plan was divided into several phases, with the phase focusing on the military academies known as the “Battle of Ibrahim al Youssef.” On June 16, 1979, Youssef massacred Alawite cadets at the artillery school in Ramousa. The slayings were blamed on the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, or an offshoot of the Islamist organization.

Other groups belonging to Jaysh al Fath include Jaysh al Sunna, Ajnad al Sham and Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad (KTJ), all of which participated in the offensive. Jaysh al Sunna and Ajnad al Sham announced the end of the strike on Aug. 6, with Ajnad al Sham thanking Allah for freeing “our brothers trapped in Aleppo.” The KTJ is a predominately Uzbek group that formally pledged allegiance to Al Nusrah last September.

Jihadists closely allied with Jaysh al Fath took part in the fighting. The Syrian arm of the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), which is comprised mainly of Uighurs and is part of al Qaeda’s international network, produced a video trumpeting the beginning of campaign. It is not clear if the TIP is a named member of Jaysh al Fath, but in practice it does not matter. The TIP’s men have been integrated into Jaysh al Fath’s battle plans for more than one year.

Other jihadist organizations tied to the al Qaeda network, such as Ansar al Din and Ansar al Islam, sent fighters to the battlefields in the southern part of Aleppo city as well.

Fatah Halab (“Aleppo Conquest”)

Fatah-Halab

The Fatah Halab coalition in Aleppo was formed in 2015. It was established by more than two dozen rebel organizations, including the Nur al-Din al-Zanki Movement, the Levant Front, other Islamist groups and Free Syrian Army (FSA) brigades. Faylaq al Sham (“Sham Legion”), which is an Islamist organization, fought alongside Fatah Halab, but also joined Jaysh al Fath’s operations in both Idlib and Aleppo.

At its founding, Fatah Halab explicitly excluded Al Nusrah. But some of Fatah Halab’s constituent groups, including Nur al-Din al-Zanki Movement, have long workedwith Nusrah.

Many of Fatah Halab’s constituent groups have posted propaganda from the fighting in Aleppo.

The 1st Regiment, which is a FSA unit, seemingly played a important role. On Aug. 2, the group’s fighters detonated a massive bomb in a tunnel underneath a facility controlled by Assad’s forces. The tunnel bomb paved the way for allied forces to rush into the district. Other photos show the 1st Regiment using guided missiles to destroy a vehiclebelonging to Hezbollah and attack positions held by the Syrian regime.

On its official Twitter feed, the Fastaqem Union (FKO Union) describes itself as “one of the most effective factions in Syria,” aiming “to topple Al-Assad Regime and build free and democratic state for all Syrians.” A FKO Union video tweeted on Aug. 3 purportedly shows a “whole group of Hezbollah” members being killed in a TOW missile strike. Two days later, on Aug. 5, the FKO Union claimed to repel an attack by Iranian troops and allied militias that were trying to relieve the front lines.

The FKO Union isn’t the only group to fire TOW missiles during the battle. On Aug. 2, Jaysh al Nasr (“Army of Victory”) released a video of one of its fighters launching a TOWat enemies perched atop a building in Aleppo.

Other units, such as the Central Division, the Authenticity and Development Front, theNorthern Division, Division 13, Sokoor al Jabal Brigade and the “101st Infantry” all posted images from the battle. The 101st Infantry tweeted a photo of its menmanufacturing mortars and grenades to be used in the offensive.

Still another powerful rebel group, Jaysh al Islam, sent forces into the battle for Aleppo as well.

The coming days will prove whether the offensive was as successful as the parties responsible claim.

Iranians and Walid suicide units on Golan border

July 8, 2016

Iranians & Walid suicide units on Golan border, DEBKAfile, July 8, 2016

GolanIsrael_military

A flurry of false Hizballah claims amid rising military tension this week was designed to cover up a direct Israeli hit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards HQ in South Syria, DEBKAfile military and intelligence sources disclose.

Whereas Hizballah reported on July 5 that Israeli helicopters had attacked Syrian army positions near the Golan town of Quneitra, in fact, one of the two Israeli “Tamuz” IDF rockets fired on July 4, in response to stray cross-border Syrian army mortar shells, struck the Syrian Ministry of Finance building near Quneitra, which housed Iranian Guards and Hizballah regional headquarters. An unknown number of Iranian officers were killed as a result.

On July 6, Hizballah sources reported a high level of tension at its east Lebanese outposts in Hasbaya, al-Qarqoub and Mount Hermon, indicating possible preparations to retaliate for the Iranian casualties.

The mortar shells that occasionally stray into Israel are aimed by the Syrian forces in Quneitra at Syrian rebel engineering units, which are digging an anti-tank trench on the town’s southern edge to prevent Syrian tanks from mounting an all-out assault against them (See attached map).

These skirmishes are put in the shade by the dangerous gains by Islamist terrorists in southern Syria.

Both ISIS and al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front have overrun the entire Syrian strip bordering on Israel and Jordan – a distance of 106km from Daraa up to the Druze villages of Mount Hermon.

The Islamists have seized control of this strategic borderland by taking advantage of the fighting between Syrian army and Syrian rebel forces in southern Syria.

Israel and Jordan were also remiss. The IDF and the Jordanian Army were so busy trying to prevent the Syrian army, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Hizballah from encroaching on their northern defense lines in northern Jordan and the Golan that they failed to notice the Islamic terrorists creeping up on their borders.

The terrorist presence which Israel finds most alarming is that of the “Khaled Bin Al-Walid Army” – a militia linked to both ISIS and al-Qaeda, which now controls a 36km band bordering on central and southern Golan from south Quneitra to the Jordan-Israel-Syria tri-border area – opposite Hamat Gader and Shaar HaGolan (See map).

The Khaled Bin Al-Walid Army was spawned by a union between the Islamist Liwa Shouada Yarmouk and Mouthana Islamic Movement militias. Its commander is Abu Abdullah al-Madani,  a Palestinian from Damascus, who is one of al-Qaeda’s veteran fighters. Close to Osama Bin-Laden, he fought with hhimagainst the Americans when they invaded Afghanistan 15 years ago. Ten years ago, he moved to Iraq, still fighting Americans, now alongside the al-Qaeda commander Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

When al-Qaeda was defeated in Iraq, al-Madani moved to Syria.

DEBKAfile counter terror sources report that this veteran of Islamist terrorism, who is believed to be in touch wit Bin Laden’s successor Ayman al Zawahri, is active in three areas:

1. He is purchasing and stockpiling chemical weapons – a high priced commodity frequently traded among various Syrian rebel organizations.

2. Abu Abdullah al-Madani is recruiting from his militia suicide units for which he is personally training for operations inside Israel. DEBKAfile sources say that his plan is being taken very seriously by Israel security chiefs.

3. He is maintaining operational ties with Al Nusra commanders in the border region, possibly seeking access to the Israeli border through their turf for his chemical weapons and suicide units.

Turkey and Saudi Arabia hit back for the Obama-Putin Syrian pact

March 5, 2016

Turkey and Saudi Arabia hit back for the Obama-Putin Syrian pact, DEBKAfile, March 5, 2016

Zaman_4.3.16Headline of last issue of Turkey’s Zaman before government takeover

Turkey and Saudi Arabia have taken separate steps to break free from Washington’s dictates on the Syrian issue and show their resistance to Russia’s highhanded intervention in Syria. They are moving on separate tracks to signal their defiance and frustration with the exclusive pact between Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin which ostracizes Riyadh and Ankara on the Syrian question.

Turkey in particular, saddled with three million Syrian refugees (Jordan hosts another 1.4 million), resents Washington’s deaf ear to its demand for no-fly zones in northern and southern Syria as shelters against Russian and Syrian air raids.

Last year, President Reccep Erdogan tried in desperation to partially open the door for a mass exit of Syrian refugees to Europe. He was aghast when he found that most of the million asylum-seekers reaching Europe were not Syrians, but Muslims from Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan, in search of a better life in the West. Most of the Syrians stayed put in the camps housing them in southern Turkey.

Even the Turkish intelligence agency MIT was hard put to explain this setback.  According to one partial explanation, organized crime gangs of Middle East dope and arms smugglers, in which ISIS is heavily represented, seized control of the refugee traffic heading to Europe from Libya, Iraq and Syria.
This human traffic netted the gangs an estimated $1 billion.

Turkey was left high and dry with millions of Syrian refugees on its hands and insufficient international aid to supply their needs. No less painful, Bashar Assad was still sitting pretty in Damascus.

Finding Assad firmly entrenched in Damascus is no less an affront for Saudi Arabia. Added to this, the Syrian rebel groups supported by Riyadh are melting away under continuing Russian-backed government assaults enabled by the Obama-Putin “ceasefire” deal’

The oil kingdom’s rulers find it particularly hard to stomach the sight of Iran and Hizballah going from strength to strength both in Syria and Lebanon.

The Turks threatened to strike back, but confined themselves to artillery shelling of Syrian areas close to the border. While appearing to be targeting the Kurdish YPD-YPG militia moving into these areas, the Turkish guns were in fact pounding open spaces with no Kurdish presence. Their purpose was to draw a line around the territory which they have marked out for a northern no-fly or security zone.

Saturday, March 5, President Erdogan proposed building a “new city” of 4,500 square kilometers on northern Syrian soil, to shelter the millions of war refugees. He again tried putting the idea to President Obama.

The Saudi Defense Minister, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman put together a more high-risk and comprehensive scheme. Its dual purpose is to hit pro-Iranian Hizballah from the rear and forcied [Sic] the two big powers to treat Riyadh seriously as a player for resolving the Syrian imbroglio.

The scheme hinged in the cancellation of a $4 billion Saudi pledge of military aid to the Lebanese army, thereby denying Hizballah, which is a state within the state and also dominates the government, access to Saudi funding. But it also pulled the rug from under Lebanon’s hopes for combating ISIS and Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front, which have grabbed a strip of Lebanese territory in the northern Beqaa Valley.

The Saudi action, by weakening the Lebanese military and its ability to shore up central government in Beirut, risks tipping Lebanon over into another civil war.

The London Economist commented that this Saudi step against Lebanon seems “amateurish.” Under the young prince (30), “Saudi Arabia sometimes acts with bombast and violence that makes it look like the Donald Trump of the Arab World,” in the view of the magazine.

But the Saudi step had a third less obvious motive, a poke in the eye for President Obama for espousing Iran’s claim to Middle East hegemony. Resentment on this score is common to the Saudi royal house and the Erdogan government.

As a crude provocation for Washington, the Turkish president ordered police Friday, March 4, to raid Turkey’s largest newspaper Zaman, after an Istanbul court ruling placed it under government control.

The newspaper released its final edition ahead of the raid declaring the takeover a “shameful day for free press” in the country. A group of protesters outside the building was dispersed with tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons.

Zaman is owned by the exiled Muslim cleric Felhullah Gulen, who heads the powerful Hizmet movement, which strongly contests Erdogan government policies. A former ally of the president, the two fell out years ago. In 1999, after he was accused of conspiring to overthrow the government in Ankara, Gulen fled to the United States.

Today, the exiled cleric runs the Hizmet campaign against the Turkish president from his home in Pennsylvania, for which he has been declared a terrorist and many of his supporters arrested.

The takeover of Zaman was intended both as a blow by Ankara against Muslim circles opposed to the Erdogan regime and as an act of retaliation against the United States, for harboring its opponents and sidelining Turkey from Obama administration plans for Syria.

Oddly enough, the Turkish president finds himself in a position analogous to Egyptian President Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi, who is at war with the Muslim Brotherhood, a movement which enjoys Obama’s support.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has his own dilemmas. Struggling to keep his balance while walking a tight rope on the Syrian situation between Israel’s longstanding ties with Washington and handling the Russian tiger lurking next door, he is in no hurry to welcome Erdogan’s determined overtures for the resumption of normal relations.

Turkey is in trouble with both major world powers and, after living for five years under hostile abuse from Ankara, Israel does not owe Erdogan a helping had for pulling  him out of the mess.

Inspector Clouseau could not be reached for comment

October 7, 2015

Inspector Clouseau could not be reached for comment, Power LineScott Johnson, October 6, 2015

Reading the page-one story (accessible here via Google) by Adam Entous in today’s Wall Street Journal, I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry. The Obama administration appears to be shocked, shocked that Vladimir Putin has not been entirely straightforward with them about Russian intentions in Syria. Entous reports:

Russia has targeted Syrian rebel groups backed by the Central Intelligence Agency in a string of airstrikes running for days, leading the U.S. to conclude that it is an intentional effort by Moscow, American officials said.

The assessment, which is shared by commanders on the ground, has deepened U.S. anger at Moscow and sparked a debate within the administration over how the U.S. can come to the aid of its proxy forces without getting sucked deeper into a proxy war that President Barack Obama says he doesn’t want. The White House has so far been noncommittal about coming to the aid of CIA-backed rebels, wary of taking steps that could trigger a broader conflict.

“On day one, you can say it was a one-time mistake,” a senior U.S. official said of Russia’s strike on one of the allied rebel group’s headquarters. “But on day three and day four, there’s no question it’s intentional. They know what they’re hitting.”

U.S. officials say they now believe the Russians have been directly targeting CIA-backed rebel groups that pose the most direct threat to Mr. Assad since the campaign began on Wednesday, both to firm up regime positions and to send a message to Mr. Obama’s administration.

Russian officials said last week that they had launched the air campaign in Syria to fight the extremist group Islamic State and other terrorists—adopting the language that the Syrian regime uses to refer to all its opponents. U.S. intelligence officials said the primary mission of the operation appeared to be shoring up the Assad regime and preventing rebels gaining any additional ground on government-controlled areas, rather than fighting Islamic State.

Hope abides, however, as the Obama administration continues to repose its faith in the good will of the Supreme Leader and lesser authorities leading the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Hizballah presses elite Radwan Force for conquering Galilee into saving stalled Zabadani battle

August 1, 2015

Hizballah presses elite Radwan Force for conquering Galilee into saving stalled Zabadani battle, DEBKAfile, August 1,2015

New_ninja_uniforms_of_Hezbollahs_elite_forcesNew “ninja” uniforms for Hizballah’s Radwan Force

Hizballah’s elite Radwan Force was originally designed to push in from Lebanon and conquer the Israeli Galilee. DEBKAfile’s exclusive military sources report that on Thursday, July 30 Hassan Nasralla saw he had no option but to press this high-value contingent into service, to extricate the combined Hizballah-Syrian armies from their month-long failure to recapture the key town of Zabadani – or even breach the defenses set up by the Al-Qaeda affiliated rebel Nusra Front.

This standoff with heavy casualties over the key town, which commands the main Damascus-Beirut highway, has become a symbolic make-or-break duel between the Iran-backed Shiite Hizballah and Al Qaeda’s Sunni Nusra Front. Nasrallah loses it at the cost of his organization’s credibility as a formidable fighting force.

Defeat would make western Damascus and eastern Lebanon more vulnerable to attack. And for Iran’s Lebanese proxy, it would leave an embarrassing question hanging in the air: If Hizballah under Iranian command combined with Syrian troops and backed by heavy artillery fire and air strikes can’t win a relatively small battle against no more than 1,200 rebel fighters across a nine-km square battleground, how much are its leaders’ boasts worth when they claim unbeatable prowess for winning major battles, including a war on Israel?

To save face in this landmark showdown, Hizballah decided to press into battle its most prestigious unit, named for Al-Hajj Radwan, the nom de guerre of Hizballah’s renowned military chief Imad Mughniye, whom Israel took out in February 2008.

Eight months ago, the Radwan Force lost its senior commanders. An Israeli air strike on Jan. 18 targeted a group of high Iranian and Hizballah officers on a visit to Quneitra on the Syrian Golan. They were surveying the terrain before relocating this elite unit to confront IDF positions on the Israeli Golan border. Iranian Gen. Ali Reza al-Tabatabai and the Hizballah district commander Jihad Mughniye (son of Imad) lost their lives in the Israeli raid and the plan was provisionally set aside.

If the Radwan Force manages to haul Hizballah out of its impasse in Zabadani, it may next be assigned to take up battle positions on the Golan.

But for now, its mission in the battle for Zabadani has three dimensions:

1.  To disarm the enemy by commando raids, a tactic to be borrowed from the rebels defending the town. On the night of July 24, the rebels preemptively struck Hizballah and Syrian army positions around the town and captured some of them. The decision to deploy Radwan appears to have come in response to that painful setback.

2.  To pull off a quick battlefield success at Zabadani, in view of intelligence reports that the Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in northern Syria were preparing together to open a second front in Lebanon, in order to relieve the rebel force pinned down in Zabadani.

The two groups plan to cross into Lebanon and start attacking pro-Hizballah Shiite populations in the Beqaa Valley and the North. They propose to cut through the Bequaa Valley and head up to the important northern Lebanese city of Tripoli on the Mediterranean coast.

3.  Syrian President Bashar Asad is under extreme pressure for a battlefield success after admitting in a public speech last week to the loss of strategic territory to rebel forces and shrinking military manpower. He has earmarked a Zabadani victory – both as a turning-point for his flagging fortunes and for holding back the constant draining of his army by desertions and defections.

Our military sources reveal that, after Assad leaned hard on the Lebanese government and army to round up Syrian troops who went AWOL, Lebanese security forces went into action. They are picking up Syrian army deserters and putting them on buses driving in armored convoys into Syria. It doesn’t take much imagination to conjure up the fate of these unwilling returnees.

Syria, Hizballah torpedo understanding between Druze and Syrian rebel Nusra Front near Israeli border

June 28, 2015

Syria, Hizballah torpedo understanding between Druze and Syrian rebel Nusra Front near Israeli border, DEBKAfile, June 28, 2015

Druze_village_of_Hadar_16.6.15The Druze village of Khader – another flashpoint

Already it looks as though Assad and Nasrallah have succeeded in sabotaging the hard-won armistice deal that the US, Jordan and Israel brokered between the Druze and Nusra Front, by forcing the half million Druze of Syria to choose sides between the belligerents. Whichever it is, they will be clobbered.

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Syrian ruler Bashar Assad and Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah have gone all out to stir up adversity between the Druze communitys of the Golan and Israel, and the Syrian rebel Al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front.

To torpedo the armistice deal brokered between them earlier this month by the US, Jordan and Israel, 200 Syrian and Hizballah troops were pumped into the Druze village of Khader on the Syrian Golan, 3 km from the Israeli border. Since Friday, June 26, these troops have been attacking Nusra and the other Syrian rebel groups fighting to capture the Golan town of Quneitra. This has stalled the rebel operation for taking control of the highway to Damascus. Rockets from this battle strayed over to the Israeli side of Golan Sunday.

DEBKAfile’s military sources reveal that Nusra hit back over the weekend. They warned Druze leaders that if they don’t stop cooperating with Assad and Nasrallah, “their blood will be on their heads.” Fighters of this Islamist group then surrounded another, smaller Druze village, Skaska, on the western slopes of Jabal Druze and threatened to go in and massacre its inhabitants.

The Nusra ultimatum, posted Saturday, June 28, made it clear that since Syrian and Hizballah are firing against them from a Druze village, the Druze are held responsible for getting it stopped. Otherwise, they will be deemed collaborators of the Assad regime and in violation of the non-belligerence deal struck between them earlier this month.

Our sources add that Syria and Hizballah accompanied the 200-man force which infiltrated Khader, with Iranian and Syrian television crews and a group of Lebanese Druze members. The footage they showed was intended to demonstrate to the world that Lebanese Druze strongly challenged the Syrian rebel takeover of southern Syria including the Golan, and sided with Bashar Assad.

The fighting is so far low key between the Syrian and Hizballah troops ocupying the Druze village of Khadar and the Nusra Front fighters. But it is estimated by Israeli watchers that an escalation is not far off and, when it happens, the rebel Islamic group will make good on its threat of retribution against the Druze villagers of Skaska.

And then, yet another sensitive corner of the Syrian conflict may go up in flames, possibly putting Israel on the spot again.

Already it looks as though Assad and Nasrallah have succeeded in sabotaging the hard-won armistice deal that the US, Jordan and Israel brokered between the Druze and Nusra Front, by forcing the half million Druze of Syria to choose sides between the belligerents. Whichever it is, they will be clobbered.