Western diplomatic sources have said that the US and Russia are working to prevent Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria from launching an expected large-scale military offensive in the al-Qalamoun region, east of Damascus.
The powers are concerned that the planned offensive will derail preparations for the Second Geneva Conference – where they hope to get the Assad regime and its rebel foes to talk to each other after three years of a bloody civil war.
Meanwhile, the Syrian army is preparing for the operation, massing large armored forces in the Al-Qaboun industrial area.
A reporter for Iran's PressTV accompanied the Syrian forces in the area, which borders on al-Qalamoun – an area of strategic importance for the defense of Damascus. Fighting in this area has been going on for many months, without a decisive victory for either side.
A Syrian officer said that the main target of the operation is to establish a security belt around Damascus. He said that the rebels are carrying out sniper fire during the daytime, and that they attempt to advance toward Syrian military positions at night.
Both sides are taking up positions in industrial buildings and conducting the warfare from inside them. Video from the scene of fighting shows huge devastation in this area.
Last month it was reported that Lebanon's Hezbollah terrorist group was mobilizing up to 15,000 fighters to aid Syrian regime forces in their attempt to dislodge rebel forces in the region.