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5 Jun, 2013 18:42

Assad army retakes control of strategic Lebanon-bordering Qusayr

Assad army retakes control of strategic Lebanon-bordering Qusayr

Syrian regime forces seize control of the strategically important town of Qusayr on the Lebanon border after a long battle with rebel fighters. Victory is being hailed as a turning point in the civil war, rebels blame defeat on the exiled Council.

Two weeks of fierce fighting has left Qusayr, once a city of 30,000, ruined with buildings devastated and windows shattered. The dome of the local mosque was damaged by rocket fire and the walls of a church smashed open.

The opposition claims that more than 500 rebels died and 1,000 were wounded.

Humanitarian agencies earlier this week claimed nearly 1,500 wounded were trapped in the city during the series of attacks by Assad forces backed by Hezbollah.  

A Syrian army's soldier walks in a street left in ruins with a national flag featuring Syria's President Bachar al-Assad on June 5, 2013 in the city of Qusayr in Syria's central Homs province (AFP Photo / Str)

Those who survived the counter-offensives escaped the city through a corridor overnight, with the rebels completely losing control of the border city.  A security source with ties to Syrian forces said Assad's troops deliberately left an escape route into nearby Debaa and the Lebanese border town of Arsal to encourage rebel fighters to quit Qusayr.

The decision to withdraw was taken after a day of rocket fire from the Syrian army and Hezbollah that "leveled what had remained" of Qusayr, Reuters said citing a rebel commander in contact with the brigades.

“This victory will have a major impact on the entire course of the fighting in Syria,” Homs Governor Ahmad Munir told RT. “The Syrian army liberated the province of Homs and regained control over its entire territory, and seeks to extend it to the rest of the country.”

However, the rebels claim that they will take revenge.

Asked by RT if that was true that Free Syrian Army is preparing to fight back, Muhammad Fatih said “Yes, it’s true.”

“Now reinforcements are arriving from Aleppo, its suburbs and other areas near Qusayr. We hope that everything will be decided in the next few hours after the implementation of our planned operations,” he said.

At the same time, opposition group blamed the defeat on National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (SC), accusing exiled members of ignoring the situation in Syria and being more concerned about money than fighting.

Experts believe the victory puts an end not only to rebel control in Qusayr, but in the whole region.

The city of Aleppo, which has been in rebel hands for the last year, is predicted to be the next city to be retaken by the Syrian regime’s army.

Syrian army's soldiers walk in a street left in ruins on June 5, 2013 in the city of Qusayr in Syria's central Homs province (AFP Photo / Str)

“Now the Syrian army will try to regain control over the area of Aleppo, using the fact that the Turkish army is currently unable to provide active assistance to the rebels, given the current unrest in Istanbul and other major Turkish cities,” Wafeeq Ibrahim, Middle East expert from Beirut told RT. 

“In the coming days we are waiting reports of a new point, I think it would be Aleppo,” Ilyas Ibrahim, expert from Damascus, told RT. “Thus, Qusayr was an important turning point for the Arab Syrian army in the battle for the liberation of all Syrian territories.”

Ibrahim believes that capturing Qusayr might also play role in establishing peace in Lebanon.

“It will mark a new stage in the establishment of the peace process in Lebanon. Of course, there will be an attempt on the part of the armed opposition to change the balance of power, but they will fail. The battle in Qusayr is remarkable as it is held after the Syrian army was retreating for a long time. Winning the Qusayr will free the area from Akruma in northern Syria to the area Ursal, located to the east of the Bekaa Valley. Through this area, as well as across the Turkish border, militants received weapons and ammunition,” he said. 

However, just hours after their defeat in Qusayr, Syrian rebel fighters have barraged Lebanese territory with rocket fire. According to some reports, up to 18 rockets have been launched with at least five hitting the city of Baalbek and the Hezbollah stronghold near the city’s center.

The involvement of Hezbollah forces in the fighting at Qusayr has invoked condemnation from the US and Arab League leadership.

“The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the Assad regime’s assault on Qusayr, which has killed untold numbers of civilians and is causing tremendous humanitarian suffering,” noted a White House statement, while spokesman Jay Carney reiterated the Obama administration’s call for Iran and Hezbollah to withdraw their troops from Syria.

According to UN figures, more than 80,000 people have been killed since the uprising against Bashar Assad began in March 2011.