Shiite Iran’s terror proxy Hezbollah, fighting on behalf of forces loyal to Russian-backed dictator Bashar al-Assad in Syria, has reportedly declared victory in the war-ravaged country despite recent claims that al-Qaeda has set up the conditions to establish an Islamic emirate there.
Moreover, the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which uses a network of ground sources to monitor the fight in the Middle Eastern country, has disputed Russian government claims that the Assad regime has recaptured 85 percent of Syria, reported Reuters.
According to the Observatory, Assad only holds 48 percent of Syria.
Territory controlled by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alone amounts to 23 percent of Syria, noted the monitor group, referring to a Kurdish-Arab alliance in the northern part of the country that is not at war with Assad.
Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, which has deployed thousands of fighters to Syria, described the fighting left in Syria as “scattered battles,” noted Reuters, citing the Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar.
“We have won in the war [in Syria],” declared Nasrallah.
Despite the Observatory’s dismissal of the Russian and Hezbollah allegations that Assad has taken control of most of Syria, Reuters notes that the claims mark the most confident assessment of the regime’s position in the war.
“The government’s most recent advances have recovered swathes of territory in eastern Syria from Islamic State [ISIS/ISIL], which is being targeted in the same region by U.S.-backed Kurdish and Arab militias,” acknowledged the news outlet.
Al-Qaeda has benefited from the U.S.-led coalition and Syrian regime’s focus on defeating its rival ISIS, evolving and growing stronger in Syria where it has set the conditions to establish an Islamic emirate, Katherine Zimmerman from the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) told lawmakers in July, echoing other analysts.
The U.S. government has also acknowledged that the al-Qaeda wing in Syria is likely the jihadist group’s largest and strongest affiliate, warning of “grave” consequences if the al-Qaeda branch in Syria is allowed to thrive further.
Al-Qaeda-linked fighters have reportedly already captured the northwestern rebel-held city of Idlib, the capital of the province of the same name, prompting the U.S. State Department to warn the move has placed northern Syria in “big danger.”
Sunni jihadist groups, including al-Qaeda and ISIS, have been fighting against the Iran and Russian-backed Assad forces in Syria throughout the conflict in the country, which started in March 2011.
After a recent meeting between Assad and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, the Syrian dictator’s office vowed to “strengthen efforts to combat terrorism in all Syrian territory until its utter annihilation.”
“Idlib province, the only Syrian province that [was] entirely under rebel control, has been a major target of Russian and Syrian aerial strikes that caused hundreds of civilians casualties,” pointed out the news outlet.
“Many locals fear the [al-Qaeda] jihadists’ hold on Idlib will again make the province a target of relentless attacks by Russian and Syrian forces and turn it into another devastated Aleppo or Mosul,” it added.
In the past, Iran and Hezbollah have lent support to al-Qaeda’s efforts against the United States, determined the 9/11 Commission Report.
However, Shiite Hezbollah troops fighting for Assad in Syria have been combating Sunni jihadists.
Hezbollah forces and al-Qaeda-linked fighters did reach a ceasefire in late July after clashes in Lebanon near the country’s border with Syria left dozens dead, with the Sunni group sustaining most of the fatalities.
Moreover, Hezbollah and ISIS also reportedly agreed on a controversial truce that provided the Shiite militia organization with uncontested control over a large area in Lebanon along the border with Syria.
Besides troops linked to the Lebanon-based Hezbollah group, Iran has deployed thousands of fighters from within its borders as well as neighboring Pakistan and Afghanistan to join Syrian forces.