Syrian National Coalition urges disparate groups of fighters to head to city under assault from Assad and Hezbollah forces
The Syrian National Coalition (SNC) sought to bolster on Wednesday embattled rebel fighters in Qusair, who for a fourth day in a row came under fierce assault from forces loyal to the Assad regime. The city, which is near the border with Lebanon, lies at the heart of a government offensive to secure a strip of land running from the capital, Damascus, to the Mediterranean coast.
The Iranian-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah has been fighting alongside Syrian regime forces in the city and surrounding areas in Homs province for weeks.
Forces from outside Syria aim to destroy Qusair and rebels should join the fight to rescue the city, George Sabra, acting head of the SNC, said. He also urged Lebanese authorities to respect Syria’s sovereignty and prevent foreign gunmen from crossing the border to fight in the civil war.
The SNC has no control over the assorted groups of rebels fighting in Syria, and it was unclear what impact, if any, Sabra’s appeal would have.
But an amateur video released by the Aleppo Media Centre showed what it said were dozens of members of al-Tawhid Brigade from the northern city heading to Qusair to help. The rebels were driving pickup trucks, cars and trucks, some of them mounted with anti-aircraft guns.
Opposition fighters in Qusair were holding out on Wednesday, but appeared to be under increasing strain as government tanks, artillery and warplanes pounded the city.
An official from the Homs governor’s office said about 80% of Qusair was in government hands. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added that troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad had discovered tunnels that linked areas of the city, and that the fighting was now concentrated in the north-west Qusair where the “terrorists” were still entrenched. His comments could not be independently verified because Damascus bans independent media access to much of Syria.
Rami Abdul-Rahman, who heads the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights activist group, said Assad forces and Hezbollah units were bombarding Qusair with rockets on Wednesday. A group of rebels trying to reach the city from the nearby town of Ind Shamseen were ambushed by Syrian troops, killing at least two, he said.
A video released by activists on Tuesday showed destruction in several areas in the city as well as heavy damage to the minaret of its grand mosque. The videos appeared genuine and corresponded with Associated Press’s reporting of the events depicted.
Hezbollah’s role in the fighting has increased up tensions in Lebanon, which has been on edge of conflict since the Syrian war began in 2011. Lebanon and Syria share a complex web of political and sectarian ties and rivalries.
Supporters of Hezbollah and relatives of Saleh Ahmed Sabagh, a member of the group, carry his coffin through Sidon, southern Lebanon, on Wednesday. Photograph: Ali Hashisho/Reuters
In an hour-long standoff on Wednesday, dozens of supporters of hardline Sunni cleric Ahmad al-Assir blocked the road leading to a cemetery in the southern city of Sidon to prevent the burial of a Hezbollah fighter who died recently in Qusair.
There was fighting in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli between supporters and opponents of Assad as well on Wednesday. Lebanese security officials said at least 10 people, including two soldiers, have been killed and more than 100 wounded since Sunday in Tripoli.
- Associated Press in Beriut
- guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 22 May 2013 18.45 BST