The Al-Qalamoun region is seen as vital both by Syrian forces and the rebels. Controlling Al-Qalamoun would allow the Assad regime to secure land links between Damascus and Homs and interdict arms supplies from Lebanese Sunni supporters for the rebels coming through the border around the town of Arsal.

For the regime, consolidating its hold on Homs is a priority, as it represents a central link between Syria’s interior cities and the Mediterranean coast north of Latakia, a stronghold of President Assad’s minority Alawite sect.

Hezbollah officials have been briefing Lebanese media outlets on an upcoming Al-Qalamoun offensive as part of an effort to manage and prepare their own followers, many of whom in the south of Lebanon have begun to express doubts about the wisdom of becoming further embroiled in their neighbor’s raging civil war…

But in the south, rare behind-the scenes disgruntlement is growing with the Hezbollah leadership, says Hisham Jaber, a Shiite and retired Lebanese army general. He says southern Shiite families are questioning the wisdom of Hezbollah fighting fellow Muslims, even if they are Sunnis.