Qusayr under blitz

Qusayr under blitz
Updated 26 May 2013

Qusayr under blitz

Qusayr under blitz

BEIRUT: Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad shelled a strategic western town yesterday in their heaviest barrage of a week-long battle to dislodge rebels from there, activists said.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 22 people including 18 rebels were killed in the fighting, and dozens wounded.
Pro-Assad troops, including fighters from the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, have been trying to push rebels out of Qusayr. The Syrian state media has said troops steadily gained ground, including yesterday. Local activists have denied regime gains and said rebel fighters are defending positions.
Qusayr is important to Assad because it sits on a land corridor linking two of his strongholds, the capital of Damascus and towns on the Mediterranean coast. For the rebels, holding Qusayr means protecting a supply line to Lebanon, 10 km away.
Yesterday’s barrage of rockets, mortar rounds and tank shells began after daybreak, said Qusayr activist Hadi Abdullah and the pro-opposition Observatory. Both said it was the most intense shelling since the regime launched its offensive there a week ago. They also reported heavy gunfire.
The intense shelling could be heard in Lebanon’s border areas and in the Syrian city of Homs, some 25 km away.
In Turkey, the acting president of Syria’s main opposition group harshly criticized Hezbollah for its role in Qusayr. “Some Lebanese are being sent to Syria as invaders in order to return back home in coffins draped with shame,” said George Sabra of the Syrian National Coalition.
“Oh Syrians, come and rescue Qusayr, Maadamiyeh, Daraya and eastern Ghouta so that Syria remains, as it is today, a graveyard for invaders,” Sabra said, referring also to suburbs of the capital Damascus where Syrian troops have been on the offensive over the past weeks.
In an indication that the rebel’s weeklong stand is also becoming a symbol outside Syria, Mohammed Al-Zawahiri, who is the brother of Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri and is himself a prominent jihadi figure in Egypt, issued a statement alongside 19 other ultraconservative and former militants to all Muslims to “help our people in Qusayr.”
“It is the duty of each Muslim to repel this aggression and stop the injustice, first by jihad with arms,” the statement carried by a militant website said.
Yesterday’s push comes ahead of a speech by Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, his first since the offensive began.
Meanwhile, Syria’s fractured political opposition was meeting for a third day in Istanbul, Turkey yesterday to elect new leaders, try to widen its base and forge a unified position ahead of possible peace talks with the regime.