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Syrian army troops on Wednesday killed 175 rebels, many of them al-Qaida-linked fighters, in an ambush described as one of the deadliest attacks by government forces against fighters near Damascus, according to state media.
"Hezbollah was the main group that implemented the ambush," said Rami Abdulrahman, head of the Observatory, which is based in Britain but has a network of sources across Syria.
The attack, apparently the deadliest against the rebels for months, took place in the key rebel stronghold targeted in a chemical attack in August 2013 that killed hundreds of people.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group based in the UK which has a network of contacts inside Syria, told the AFP news agency that dozens were killed in the ambush.
"Dozens of Islamist fighters were killed and wounded in an ambush by loyalist troops, with the help of Hezbollah, near Otaybeh village in the Eastern Ghouta area,"
“The regime forces riddled them with heavy machine-gun fire,” Saeed said, speaking via Skype, the AP reported. “It seems that the regime discovered the secret road that the rebels were using.”
If the regime claims of foreigners among the dead in Wednesday’s ambush bear out, it would highlight the often-nebulous and mixed nature of both groups, which remain very tightly aligned even amid some disagreement over organizational structure.
If that is the direction the Syrian conflict is going, then Washington will eventually face a de facto military victory in the very center of the Middle East by an Assad rump state, Iran, Hezbollah and Russia, on top of the humanitarian tragedy and attrition of U.S. global prestige."
Meanwhile, Syrian government troops, backed by National Defense paramilitary forces, advanced against militant groups near Aleppo’s airport, and close to the Army’s 80th Division headquarters, the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Tuesday.
As for the old foe, Israel, he said: "None of their borders are safe now and this is not a good thing for them. They cannot be happy with the momentum anywhere in the region, especially Syria.
Lebanon’s Military Investigative Judge issued an arrest warrant to detain Naim Abbas on charges of belonging to a terrorist group, Lebanon’s National News Agency reported on Wednesday.
"One clear message is that if Ukraine moves to restore its control in Crimea through military means, Russia may act as it did in Georgia in 2008," he says, referring to when Russian forces drove invading Georgians out of the breakaway territory of South Ossetia. The Kremlin later granted "independence" to that little region and another pro-Russian republic, Abkhazia.
Mr. Strokan thinks the Kremlin is not ready to extend new protections to Russian Ukrainians just yet. "This is all at the stage of signalling and contingency planning," he says. But if it thinks Russians' rights are being violated, "then Russia will act."
"Intervening in Crimea would create a rift with the West ... but perhaps Putin doesn't care about that anymore," Strokan says. "Russia has grown stronger, more assertive, and more anti-Western. This is our back yard, the people in Crimea are Russians, and there's no chance Russia will back down if it comes to a struggle over that."