DAMASCUS – Agence France-Presse
A Syrian army soldier exits his tank in the southwestern neighborhood of the Syrian city of Qusayr. A missile strike near Syria's biggest city Aleppo killed 26 people and government warplanes pounded Qusayr, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, as a regime offensive to retake the town entered its third week. AFP PHOTO/STR
Syria’s army has overrun the strategic town of Qusayr, state media said on Wednesday, after a blistering offensive spearheaded by thousands of fighters from Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement.
Such a major battlefield success for President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, if confirmed, would come as officials from Russia, the US
and the UN gathered in Geneva to work on a peace conference amid fresh allegations that the Damascus regime has used chemical weapons.
“The Syrian army totally controls the Qusayr region in Homs province after killing a large number of terrorists and capturing others,” state television report said, using the regime’s terminology for the rebels. Official news agency Sana said the army had “reestablished total security in the town of Qusayr,” while Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television, which has a correspondent on the ground, said the rebels had fled the region. A rebel statement also said they withdrew overnight Wednesday from the town after an onslaught by the Syrian army and Hezbollah fighters killed hundreds of people.
“In face of this huge arsenal and lack supplies and the blatant intervention of Hezbollah... tens of fighters stayed behind and ensured the withdrawal of their comrades along with the civilians,” said the statement, which was sent to Reuters.
Assad forces and Hezbollah fighters launched an offensive to retake the Qusayr region on the Lebanese border, on May 19. Control of Qusayr is vital for the rebels as it is their principal transit point for weapons and fighters from Lebanon. It is also strategic for the regime because it is located on the road linking Damascus with the coast, its rear base.