Syria’s government presses battle in key rebel city of Qusair
BEIRUT -- Renewed clashes were reported Monday in the strategic Syrian city of Qusair, where government forces pressed an offensive aimed at chasing rebels from the supply and logistics hub.
There were conflicting accounts from the government and the opposition about the fighting.
The official Syrian Arab News Agency reported that army units “restored security and stability” to most of Qusair, which is situated close to the Lebanese border. The news service reported the surrender of dozens of “terrorists,” the standard government term for rebels fighting to oust the government of President Bashar Assad.
State media also reported the seizure of “huge amounts” of ammunition and improvised bombs, while troops were said to have destroyed tunnels used by rebels to hide and store arms.
Opposition activists said intense fighting continued Monday as rebels held off advancing government forces amid steady bombardment.
At least 90 people have died in two days of fighting in and around Qusair, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based opposition group. Most were killed on Sunday, when the town was subjected to intense government bombardments, the opposition said. The casualty figures could not be independently confirmed.
Rebel spokesmen disputed government accounts that Syrian government troops had reached the center of the town.
The opposition says militants from the Lebanese group Hezbollah have been assisting Syrian forces and have suffered heavy losses. There has been no official comment from Hezbollah, a dominant but secretive military and political force in Lebanon.
The heavy fighting in Qusair appeared to spark renewed violence in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, where factions on opposing sides of the Syrian civil war opened fire on each other Sunday. The official Lebanese National News Agency reported at least two killed and 26 wounded.
The Lebanese army was deployed, and calm was reported early Monday, apart from sporadic gunfire.
Violence between pro- and anti-Assad factions in Tripoli has flared periodically since the war erupted in Syria.
Qusair, situated about six miles from Syria’s border with Lebanon, has long been a supply and logistics center for opposition fighters operating in the heavily contested Homs province. Losing it would be a major blow for Syria’s armed opposition.
The town sits astride a key weapons-smuggling corridor from Lebanon and serves as a way station for rebel fighters infiltrating into Syria. Qusair is also in close proximity to major highways to the Syrian capital, Damascus, and the Mediterranean coast, a government stronghold. Rebels periodically attempt to cut the routes.
Qusair has been under rebel control for more than a year. Government troops have been preparing a siege for weeks, advancing from nearby villages and suburbs. Most of the town’s reported 40,000 residents are believed to have fled.
Bulos is a special correspondent.
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