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Syrian army, backed by Hezbollah, retakes key town of Qusair

June 05, 2013|By Jeffrey Fleishman

CAIRO -- Syrian forces backed by Hezbollah militants stormed a strategic town Wednesday, pushing back rebels and seizing control of key supply routes after weeks of some of the heaviest fighting in the country's 2-year-old civil war.

Syrian state television reported that government forces had retaken Qusair, a battered town near the Lebanese border. The advance followed a series of battles in which regime forces overran rebel positions, dispiriting the opposition and giving President Bashar Assad new momentum.

The army has “restored security and peace” to Qusair after defeating “terrorist networks,” state TV reported. Video images showed buildings pocked by bullets and artillery and piles of rubble left by weeks of heavy fighting. A smattering of Syrian flags, one planted on a clock tower, flew amid the destruction as government soldiers fanned through the streets.

The army said the retaking of the town, which rebels had held for more than a year, was "a clear message to all those who share in the aggression on Syria ... that we will continue our string of victories until we regain every inch of Syrian land."

Rebels and opposition networks conceded they had been routed. 

“It’s a battle that we lost,” the Local Coordination Committees, an opposition activist network, said in a statement. It added that rebel fighters encountered “missile launchers, mortar shells, airstrikes and shelling, hundreds of martyrs and thousands of injured, a strangling siege and a lack of all ... basic needs.”

Giving the Syrian capital, Damascus, access to loyalist strongholds along the Mediterranean Sea, Qusair is vital to government supply routes. The town sits only miles from the Lebanese border, allowing the Shiite militant group Hezbollah to infiltrate Syria to support Assad’s army. Many now fear fighting may spread to Lebanon and incite that nation’s sensitive sectarian divides.

Assad’s victory in Qusair is testament to his alliance with Hezbollah and to arms and technology equipment he has received from Russia and Iran. Rebels were also running out of ammunition, medical supplies and lacked enough fighters to repel the Syrian advance.

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jeffrey.fleishman@latimes.com


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