Syrian Army, Hezbollah advance into key town

The Washington Post, Afp-jiji, AP

Syrian regime forces, backed by militants from the Lebanese group Hezbollah, are reported to have made significant advances into the rebel stronghold of Qusair, near the Lebanese border.

The SANA news agency said President Bashar Assad’s troops took control of most of the town Monday. But the state news service also said government forces were still fighting “terrorists” in several town districts.

The army launched a sustained assault on the small but strategic town Sunday morning, bombarding it with airstrikes and shelling. Syrian state television said 70 “terrorists” were killed, while activists said that at least 52 people, including three women, died. The Syrian regime refers to rebel forces as “terrorists.”

In addition to the attack from the air, opposition groups have reported clashes between rebel forces and Syrian Army units fighting alongside Hezbollah guerrillas at several points around the town, which sits about 10 km from the Lebanese border in Homs Province.

At least 23 Hezbollah members were killed in the fighting, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Monday.

The Syrian Opposition Coalition has warned that a “civilian massacre” may occur, and there have been reports of residents fleeing into Lebanon.

The timing of the assault may be significant. Peace talks brokered by the United States and Russia are to be held next month. According to analysts, if the regime wins a decisive victory in Qusair, it may have the upper hand at the negotiating table.