Heavy shelling pounded the besieged Syrian town of Qusair on Monday, killing at least three civilians and injuring several more, as government forces made another attempt to storm the strategic junction, according to opposition activists in and near the town.
Qusair-based rebels aided by opposition fighters from other parts of Syria were able to hold off government troops and Hezbollah fighters, destroying three tanks and killing dozens of fighters, said Bashir Al-Saleh, an activist with the Aleppo-based Al Tawheed Brigade stationed outside the town.
Forces loyal to President Bashar Assad have been attempting to retake the town for several weeks and cut off an important opposition supply line for weapons and aid. More rebel fighters were expected to arrive to help defend the strategic town that sits nears the Lebanese border, Al-Saleh said, joining two of Aleppo's most prominent opposition military leaders, Col. Abduljabbar Akidi, head of the Aleppo Military Council and Abdulqader Saleh, military commander of the Al Tawheed Brigade.
The continued clashes and shelling came as world leaders and aid groups expressed growing concern about the humanitarian situation inside Qusair.
On Saturday, the U.N. Security Council failed to agree on a statement of grave concern regarding the situation in Qusair when Russia, the Syrian government's strongest ally, blocked the declaration. Russia had said it was not advisable to speak out now because the council didn't issue a similar statement when the town was taken by rebel fighters last year.
That same day, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos and U.N. human rights commissioner Navi Pillay urged that thousands of trapped Qusair residents be allowed to flee. In a joint statement, Amos and Pillay said they were "extremely alarmed" by reports that as many as 1,500 injured people were in need of immediate evacuation for emergency medical treatment.
The International Committee of the Red Cross attempted to gain access to Qusair but was told by the Syrian government that it would be allowed to enter the town only after military operations end.
Meanwhile, rebel fighters outside the town continued attacking Hezbollah and government checkpoints on Monday in an attempt to cut off their supply line as well as open a path for the injured and residents to flee, Al-Saleh said.
A convoy evacuating the wounded and women and children was attacked a few days ago and few attempts to leave have been made since.
Inside the town, residents huddled in basements and bunkers as dozens of shells landed every minute, said activist Abu Al-Huda Al-Quseir. On Sunday, his 25-year-old brother was killed when a shell hit their building, he said.