BEIRUT : Syrian troops backed by fighters from Lebanon's Hezbollah on Sunday launched an assault to oust rebels from the foothills of the Qalamun mountains north of the capital, state television said.
Regime forces took parts of the strategic Qalamun region near the border with Lebanon in April, but some 2,000 rebel fighters withdrew to the hills, from where they have launched guerrilla attacks.
Fourteen fighters from the powerful Hezbollah group have been killed in the area over the past two weeks, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Syria's state broadcaster showed footage of the troops, saying they had taken "some hills overlooking the Rankus plain and are pursuing terrorist groups who tried to infiltrate the region from Lebanon".
An interviewed by the channel said "the army has cut the route off to terrorist groups who try to return to the region from time to time. The operation is continuing until the whole of the Qalamun area has been cleansed.
"This land will be a cemetery for all terrorists who decide to return."
President Bashar al-Assad's regime refers to the armed opposition inside the country as "terrorists", without distinguishing between different groups.
Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said that "rebels hiding in the heights and in caves have been attacking army and Hezbollah positions for weeks after being pushed out of the region, which also prompted regime forces to withdraw".
He said the rebels had launched a counter attack "and succeeded in retaking their positions and expanding their presence".
Since the Syria conflict erupted in March 2011, more than 162,000 people have been killed and millions displaced.