RT crew caught in crossfire in western Syria

An RT crew filming on location in western Syria found itself in the midst of a live firefight as government forces and their allies were driving rebels out of the city of Zabadani.

RT correspondent Lizzie Phelan and her crew came under heavy fire as they were attempting to approach the front dividing the city of Zabadani, a long time rebel stronghold close to capital city of Damascus.

The crew heard a heavy artillery exchange between Syrian government forces and the rebels as they entered the city, and later found themselves caught in the midst of ongoing skirmishes as they were trying to get closer to the frontline.

“It seem that there are snipers firing at our position… sniper positions were firing towards us… so we had to leave the area very quickly” Lizzie Phelan told RT. The crew had to leave their location on the run, hiding between the ruins of the city.

“As we were leaving, we also had a Syrian army helicopter above us and we saw one of the missiles dropped on the last small area that the rebels still control,” Phelan added.

Syrian government forces with their allies from Hezbollah, the Lebanese resistance movement, have been fighting the rebels for Zabadani for years, as it is of great strategic importance for both the Syrian government and Lebanon, as well as for the rebels.

Zabadani, which has been a rebel stronghold since February 2012, lies on the road between Damascus and Beirut close to Syria’s capital. It is Damascus’ main source of water, and the rebels have threatened to cut off the city’s water supply. Zabadani also controls key rebel supply lines close to the government-controlled capital.

Government forces and their allies now control 85 percent of the city and final pushes are underway to secure the entire area. Only 200 to 300 rebels are left in the city, Lizzie Phelan said. According to Syrian army sources, these rebels are from the Al Nusra Front and Ahrar ash-Sham groups, both of which have links to Al Qaeda and many Islamic State militants among them.

Sources from Syria’s government forces emphasized that they saw “little differentiation” between the Islamic State fighters and other rebels, as they claimed they were all “just as extreme and dangerous to the population,” Phelan said.

Though western government officials often claim that the Syrian government has done very little to combat extremists in Syria, it is only the Syrian army and their allies from Hezbollah, along with armed local government militias, who are fighting the extremists in this important strategic town, Phelan reported.

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The army expects the military operation to be over in the next few days, with rebel holdouts having only two options: either surrender or face annihilation as the Syrian army takes the rest of the city.