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                                        Volume. 11950
Syrian army prepares for offensive in Qalamoun mountains
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c_330_235_16777215_0___images_stories_edim_01_Syria99(36).jpgSyrian army forces were Monday readying an assault on the last rebel-held areas in the Qalamoun mountains, located on the Lebanese border, after overrunning the key opposition bastion Yabrud.
 
"The army will, under the battle plan, launch operations in all areas where terrorists are to be found," a security source in Damascus told AFP.
 
These included Rankus, south of Yabrud, and Ras al-Maarra and Flita, northwest of the town.
 
"The aim of the army operation is to entirely secure the border and to close all corridors to Lebanon," the source added.
 
The capture on Sunday of Yabrud by Syrian troops and fighters of Lebanon's Hezbollah marked a significant setback for the rebels as it severs their important supply lines from across the Lebanese border.
 
Syrian soldiers seized the town in fierce clashes with the support of battle-hardened fighters from Lebanon' Hezbollah movement.
 
The fall of Yabrud comes after months of Syrian army operations in the Qalamoun region. Late last year, the army captured a string of nearby towns before turning its sights on Yabrud.
 
The town was once home to some 30,000 people, including a Christian minority, and had been a rebel bastion since early in the Syrian conflict that began in March 2011.
 
Yabrud is a strategic prize because of its proximity to the highway and the Lebanese border, across which rebels have smuggled fighters and weapons.
 
Hezbollah's involvement in Syria has prompted bomb attacks by extremist groups against areas in Lebanon sympathetic to the party, killing mostly civilians.
 
The group and Lebanese security forces have said many of the car bombs used in those attacks originated in Yabrud.
 

Lebanese security forces blow up bomb-laden vehicle 
 
Meanwhile, Lebanese security forces Monday detonated an explosive-laden vehicle in the Bekaa Valley, east Lebanon, security sources said.
 
According to the Daily Star, the vehicle, a silver Grand Cherokee, was found abandoned on the outskirts of the Bekaa Valley town of Fakiha during an Army sweep of the area, the sources said.
 
Soldiers, who suspected the vehicle was a potential threat, fired at the vehicle using assault rifles and rocket propelled grenades which led to the detonation of the explosives inside, the sources said.
 
An Army statement said the vehicle contained 170 kilograms of explosives.
 
The military located the vehicle after a tipoff of a vehicle rigged with explosives in the area, it said, adding that vehicle was found parked in an unpopulated area in Ras Baalbek near a school.
 
Due to the danger of dismantling or moving the vehicle, the Army took a decision to blow the vehicle up in place, according to the statement.
 
Fears have mounted over the security situation in east Lebanon after the Syrian regime regained control of the previously rebel bastion of Yabroud Sunday.
 
Hours after Syrian regime troops claimed “the fall of Yabroud,” a suicide bomber killed at least three people, including two Hezbollah members, and wounded 11 others in the east Lebanon village of Nabi Othman.
 
The Nusra Front in Lebanon claimed responsibility for the attack saying it was a “quick response” to Hezbollah.
 
The al-Qaeda-linked group vowed to bring the fight from the fallen Syrian town to Lebanon.
 

Washington names new envoy for Syria
 
In another development, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has announced a new special envoy for Syria. He replaces a veteran diplomat who retired earlier this year amid a breakdown in talks between the Syrian government and opposition forces, AP reported. 
 
Shortly after the Syrian conflict marked its three-year anniversary this weekend, Kerry on Monday named career diplomat and Middle East hand Daniel Rubinstein to the post. Rubinstein succeeds Robert Ford in the job.
 
Ford, who also served as U.S. ambassador to Syria, retired at the end of February. Like Ford, Rubinstein speaks fluent Arabic and has served in numerous positions at embassies around the Mideast, including in Israel, Jordan, Iraq, Tunisia and Syria.
 
Kerry says Rubinstein will travel to the region in the coming week.
 
Syria's conflict, which has killed more than 146,000 people, entered its fourth year on Saturday.

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