WASHINGTON — Some 3,000 Sunni jihadist fighters have gathered in the Syrian Qalamoun mountains bordering eastern Lebanon, poised to attack a series of Christian towns in northern and central Lebanon.
They appear to be preparing to undertake a pincer attack on the north around Tripoli and in the south from the Syrian Golan Heights, according to informed Middle East sources.
As they appear to be surviving the harsh winter in the mountains for a possible series of attacks in the spring,
The sources say the fighters, comprised of ISIS and the al-Qaida-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, survived the harsh winter in the mountains to position themselves for a possible series of attacks in the spring.
To keep open supply lines, the jihadists are conducting sporadic guerrilla attacks against the Lebanese army.
Nusra and ISIS fighters generally have been fighting with one another, but in Lebanon there appears to be increasing coordination of their fighters, although their objectives are different, sources add.
According to Middle East analyst Mario Abou Zeid, elements of the Free Syrian Army, which has U.S. backing, also have begun to team up with Nusra fighters.
“Free Syrian Army fighters had begun to lose hope of receiving any significant aid from foreign stakeholders,” Zeid said. “The well-supplied Nusra Front won the trust and loyalty of these fighters, which translated into cooperation in Qalamoun.
There is a “new death triangle for ISIS,” Lebanese Interior Minister Mouhad al-Machnouq said recently, “stretching from the barren Lebanese lands of Arsal to the Palestinian Ein al-Hilweh refugee camp and Roumieh prison (in east Beirut), reaching Iraq and Raqqa,” the ISIS caliphate capital in Syria.
Arsal is where ISIS and Nusra began their foray last August inside northern Lebanon, taking hostages in the process, including numerous members of the Lebanese army. After the town of 35,000 residents exchanged hands a few times, Arsal has become a center of strict Islamic law imposed on its occupants.
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