Syrian government troops and Hezbollah fighters captured a strategic town near the Lebanese frontier yesterday, sending opposition fighters fleeing to Lebanon from their last stronghold in the vital border area. The fall of Yabroud—a major smuggling hub for the rebels trying to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad—is the latest in a string of strategic gains by Assad's forces that have consolidated authority in the past months in Syria's major cities, including the capital, Damascus.
Militants from Lebanon's Shiite group Hezbollah have been instrumental to Assad's success on the battlefield, and support from the Iranian-backed fighters appears to have tipped the balance into the government's favor in Yabroud. But the fact that opposition fighters fled into Lebanon, where Hezbollah is a major force, suggests the conflict could bleed further into Syria's neighbor. "It's a good day for Assad," says the director of the Middle East Center at the London School of Economics. "He has not only survived the past three years, but his army is intact and on a rebound, with his allies Hezbollah firmly behind him." He warns, however, that the fall of Yabroud will end up "pouring gasoline on sectarian divisions" in Lebanon.