Fierce fighting rages in strategic Syrian town

Fierce fighting rages in strategic Syrian town

Fierce fighting rages in strategic Syrian town

Lebanese Sunni gunmen ride on motorcycles during the funeral of one of their colleagues in Tripoli, Lebanon. REUTERS Photo

Syrian government assault on the rebel bastion of Qusair raged into a second day on May 20, with at least 28 members of the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah reportedly killed as they fought alongside the army.

The battle began on May 19, when government troops backed by regime ally Hezbollah stormed the western town, a strategic prize in the country’s two-year conflict. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the fighting had left at least 56 rebels dead, six of them yesterday, and four civilians, including one woman.

“Reliable sources informed the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that 23 members of Hezbollah’s elite forces were killed and more than 70 others wounded in clashes in the town of Qusair yesterday,” said the Britain-based group.

A source close Hezbollah told Agence France-Presse at least 20 members had been killed in Syria, with around 30 more wounded.

‘Most difficult day’

The attack began with an early-morning offensive on May 19 led by warplanes and heavy artillery fire, with ground troops moving in afterwards. “We struck from several fronts, south, east and northeast,” one soldier told state television from the rebel bastion.

A military source said government forces controlled the center of Qusair and the Syrian flag was flying over the recaptured town hall, though activists denied troops had advanced that far. Opposition activist Hadi al-Abdullah said the assault was terrifying.

“Yesterday was the most violent, most difficult day in the whole of the Syrian revolution,” he said.
“I’ve never seen so much shelling... Qusair was being shelled from all sides.” Qusair is considered strategically important because it sits between Damascus and the coast and near the Lebanese border.

“If the army manages to take control of Qusair, the whole province of Homs will fall,” said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.

The regime has made recapturing Qusair and nearby rebel areas of Homs province a key objective, and fighting has raged in the region for months.

In a sign that the sectarian violence spilled over from the civil war in Syria, three people have been killed and about 40 wounded in two days of fighting in Lebanon’s northern city of Tripoli.

Syrian activists say the latest fighting in Tripoli, where Alawites live on a hill overlooking the mainly Sunni Muslim port city, was ignited by tensions over an assault by Syrian troops backed by Hezbollah militia on the rebel-held Syrian border town of Qusair.