April 26, 2013
By Nuha Shabaan
Air raids on Al-Qusayr in Homs province are intensifying, with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reporting 10 deaths by air strike on Friday.
“The battles are continuous for the sixth straight day,” said Abu Bilal al-Homsi, a citizen journalist and pro-revolution activist. “We have information of Assad sending in shabiha reinforcements to Al-Qusayr and Hezbollah fighters entering and pillages the villages of Sayed Ali and Al-Qasser.”
Activists say that regime forces and Hezbollah fighters are encircling Al-Qusayr on the ground while the air force provides cover by launching ongoing air strikes. They estimate that anywhere between 500 and 2,000 Hezbollah fighters are on the ground seeking to capture the southern town, considered the gateway into Homs province.
The onslaught is providing a real challenge to the FSA, as it loses ground to Hezbollah. The Lebanese militia, by several independent accounts, has captured at least eight villages west of Al-Qusayr. Activists say the fighters are burning and looting citizens’ homes to drive them out.
“You can see pillars of smoke emanating from the areas under Hezbollah control in addition to them raising their flags there,” said a citizen journalist who asked that only his first name, Sami, be printed.
The offensive began last Saturday. “We heard from some members of the Free Syrian Army that Hezbollah forces backed by regime forces started storming the villages around Al-Qusayr,” Sami said. “At first, I did not take it seriously because I knew that the FSA was strong enough to defeat these forces, but surprisingly, on Sunday, we were shocked to learn that the FSA in those villages retreated.”
Chaos ensued as citizens desperately sought to flee, Sami said, an account corroborated by other independent media reporting. “It was horrible. Everybody started packing up.”
While it is too soon to foresee an outcome to this sectarian struggle, the FSA “should fortify their positions,” said one local activist, who asked that his name not be used out of fear for his family seeking refuge in Lebanon.
Syrian state media reported on Friday that “army units continue to cleanse a number of villages around Al-Qusayr of terrorists.”
With additional reporting by Ahmed Kwider.