May 21, 2013
By Ahmed Kwider and Nuha Shabaan
AMMAN: Fierce battles continued in the streets of Al-Qusayr on Tuesday as regime air raids provided cover for Hezbollah militiamen on the ground fighting thousands of rebels in what activists say is a decisive battle that will determine the future of the revolution.
As goes Al-Qusayr, so goes the revolution, several activists have said in recent days. “If Al-Qusayr falls, the revolution will fall along with it in most of Syria.” Mohammed al-Abdullah, 27, a citizen journalist and former salesman of agricultural equipment. [Read his full dispatch from Al-Qusayr here.]
The city of 60,000 is the regime’s lifeline between the coast and Damascus as well as a key point along Hezbollah’s supply route. In the months since the rebels have held the city, it has blocked Hezbollah’s access to the road as well as the regime’s route to Homs and the coast from the main highway.
“If Al-Qusayr falls, Homs will fall, too,” said Suhaib al-Ali, an FSA spokesman in Homs. “It is the main gateway for the FSA to stop the progress of the regime in Homs province,” he added.
“This battle is very important for the revolution, and not only for Homs province,” said Hassan Abul Zain, 28, an activist still inside Al-Qusair.
Activists say the shelling is coming as far as the Lebanese town of Hermal, a Hezbollah stronghold across the border from Al-Qusayr.
The head of the opposition’s Supreme Military Council, Gen. Salim Idriss, called on Lebanon to stop Hezbollah attacks on Syria in a phone interview on Monday with The Daily Star. “We don’t want to bring the battle to Lebanon, but our patience is running out,” Idriss said.
“The indiscriminate attacks have not stopped since Sunday night,” said Al-Qusayr resident Mohammed al-Abdullah. “I hear the attacks and bombing, the screaming of ambulances and the calls for help from people,” he said, adding that random shelling makes it difficult to move about and rescue the injured.
“The rebels and civilians in the city have been under violent bombardment,” the Syrian Observatory said in an online post Monday.
The Syrian regime, backed by shabiha militias and an untold number of Hezbollah fighters, is claiming victories in its own media outlets, stating that “stability [has been restored] to eastern Al-Qusayr as operations continue in northern and southern areas.”
While state media reported “heavy losses among terrorists” on Tuesday and none of its own, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an impartial organization following events inside Syria, tallied the dead in Al-Qusayr by the end of Monday as follows: 23 Hezbollah fighters, 56 rebels, 12 Syrian army soldiers and shabiha, and four civilians.
Pro-Hezbollah social media sites published the names on Monday of 16 fighters killed, without providing their ranks.
The FSA has said repeatedly it would fight for Al-Qusayr down to the last bullet. Colonel Zakariya of the Free Syrian Army told Al-Arabiya on Monday that his forces will burn the entire area to the ground if the city falls.
“If al-Qusayr falls, Shiite villages in Syria will be wiped off the map, and so will Alawite villages,” he said. “We don’t want that at all, but it will be out of everyone’s control.”
The rebel commander alluded to the fresh arrival of jihadist fighters, telling the Arab satellite station: “Many of our brave fighters have arrived in Al-Qusayr [Sunday] night. They are knights dressed in black, and I am serious about these words, which Syrians understand.”
The head of the opposition’s Supreme Military Council, Gen. Salim Idriss, told The Daily Star in a phone interview on Monday that fighters in Al-Qusayr are well-armed and prepared to defend the city. Idriss denied that the regime was close to capturing the city.
“They were not able to enter Al-Qusayr and the number of theirs killed was in the dozens,” Idriss said.
The Syrian Coalition has also denounced regime-led attacks on the city, saying they “are currently shelling the town with various heavy weapons.”
With most of the city inaccessible to outsiders, the scope of the damage could not be verified. Videos purportedly taken in Al-Qusayr after the regime-led offensive began on Sunday showed flattened buildings barely visible through clouds of dust and smoke.
“Many houses now hold more than one family,” said Al-Qusayr resident Abul Zain. “Many homes have been destroyed and it is a disaster in every sense of the word.”
With additional reporting from Jacob Wirtschafter.