A Syrian army soldiers holds up his weapon during a battle against opposition fighters in the city of Qusayr, in Syria’s central Homs province Photo: AFP/GETTY
By Ruth Sherlock, Beirut and Magdy Samaan and Richard Spencer in Cairo
6:00PM BST 28 May 2013
The Assad regime predicted a speedy victory after it attempted to storm Qusayr near the Lebanese border a week last Sunday, claiming to have almost immediately taken 80 per cent of the town.
Videos posted from the rebel side in recent days suggest that in fact they are now tied down in the east side of Qusayr and on the outskirts elsewhere. Accosrding to their own and Hizbollah accounts, the attack was stymied by Syrian rebels who booby-trapped the town’s entrances and emerged from tunnels to ambush attackers who thought they had fought their way to the centre.
“The revolutionary fighters are still holding the town, except the area of the security buildings on the east side, which represents around 20 per cent,” a rebel spokesman, Hadi al-Abdullah, said from inside the town. “We are still standing despite the tight siege. The Hizbollah fighters are not familiar with the entrances and exits, and that allowed us to trap them in ambushes.”
His account appeared to be corroborated by recent videos taken of regime frontlines in recognisable areas and posted online.
Parts of his account have been also confirmed by interviews given by Hizbollah to journalists in Lebanon.
The fight for Qusayr has become a key battle, with the regime determined to cut off what has been used as a supply way-point from a Sunni district of north-east Lebanon for rebels operating throughout Homs province.
Gen Selim Idris, the head of the Revolutionary Military Council, yesterday warned Hizbollah that it had “24 hours to withdraw from Syria” saying they would “take all measures to hunt Hizbollah, even in hell”.
Earlier, three Lebanese soldiers were killed near the border close to Qusayr, while nine rockets fired in two days at a Hizbollah-controlled town in Lebanon, Hermel, killed one woman and injured seven others.
Inside Qusayr, rebels are prepared to admit that Hizbollah and the regime have made some slow advances. Omar al-Homsi, a defected regime soldier fighting with the opposition, said he had heard regime troops arresting residents as they moved from house to house over intercepted walky-talky messages.
Hadi al-Abdullah said two FSA fighters and two civilians were killed on Tuesday morning, but added that for the first time a gap in the encirclement of the town had opened up, allowing them to evacuate several hundred non-combatants.
Nonetheless, there remains up to 20,000 civilians inside the town, according to other rebels. Video shows a number of children, including a baby, being treated for shellfire injuries.
The rebels are now relying on relief from a force of men sent down from Aleppo. But just as the pro-Assad forces are stuck on the outskirts of town, the rebel reinforcements are stuck on the outer perimeter of the regime’s encirclement.
“There are FSA battalions trying to enter the city but they still can’t,” Hadi al-Abdullah said. “There is no presence of Asaad troops in Qusayr – they withdrew completely three days ago. Now Hizbollah is in complete charge of operations.”