Some members of the Syrian opposition disputed reports Wednesday that an alliance of government troops and Hezbollah fighters had driven rebel forces out of the strategic town of Qusair.
While acknowledging that the government had captured a key portion of the city, the activists said it appeared that rebel fighters were still stationed in portions of the city – an important junction between Damascus and loyalist towns on the Mediterranean Sea that is a vital conduit for rebel supply lines from Lebanon.
“The rebels haven't exited Al-Qusair at all," said Mohammad Younes Harba, a security officer with the opposition Al-Wadi militia who said he left Qusair on Tuesday. He added, however, that he didn’t know where the rebel forces were. “The militias will refuse to leave, they will die there.”
With communications largely cut off in Qusair, Harba's claim was impossible to verify — as was the claim of the government that its forces had taken back the town.
However, Harba painted a picture of grim conditions for the rebel forces in the town, which has been under siege for weeks.
He said there were negotiations Tuesday night between the opposition's Free Syrian Army and Hezbollah, which is aligned with the Syrian government, for the opposition fighters to withdraw. That explained the sudden fall of Qusair, he said. During the course of the intense fighting, the rebels' ammunition cache had dwindled and few reinforcements arrived.
"Even without ammunition, though, they would have stayed and fought with the ammunition of the enemy," Harba said of the rebels. "But there is no food. There have been eight days without food, nothing. They aren't able to stand on their feet. They wish for just a piece of bread."
Harba said he believed that rebel fighters were possibly still in the northern and western parts of the town. Syrian state TV showed footage of army troops in the clock tower square, which is in the southern part of the town, Harba said.
Jaad Al-Yamani, an activist and aid worker on the outskirts of Qusair, said the opposition fighters were still stationed in the northern neighborhoods but he was unable to communicate with anyone inside. Meanwhile, the town's civilians and injured had all been able to flee to the neighboring towns of Al-Bweida and Al-Salhiya.
"Now there is no one left except for the fighters," he said.