Hezbollah sends fighters to Syria battle

2013-05-21 14:12
A Syrian soldier scans the area for hostiles in the the town of Qusayr in Homs province. (AFP)

A Syrian soldier scans the area for hostiles in the the town of Qusayr in Homs province. (AFP)

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Beirut - Dozens of people, mostly combatants, have been killed in ongoing battles for the Syrian town of Qusayr, a watchdog said on Tuesday, as Hezbollah sent new elite fighters to the rebel stronghold.

Meanwhile, in northern Lebanon, new shells launched from inside Syria injured nine people, an official said.

"At least 31 Hezbollah fighters have been killed since Sunday, as well as 68 rebel fighters, six of whom we were unable to identify," said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

"Another nine troops loyal to President Bashar Assad were killed in the fighting, as were three paramilitary fighters.

"It's clear Hezbollah is leading the assault," said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.

Four civilians - three of them women - were also killed, he added.

Hezbollah's television channel broadcast images showing hundreds of people attending funerals for five members killed "carrying out their jihadist duty".

It did not specify where they had been killed.

Fierce assault

Abdel Rahman said most of the rebels who were killed in Qusayr, a strategic town that links Damascus to the coast and the heartland of Assad's Alawite sect, died in the shelling.

A source close to Hezbollah told AFP that the Lebanese group's fighters had been killed by explosive devices planted by rebels who are seeking to oust Assad's regime.

The source also said Hezbollah had sent new fighters into Qusayr to fight alongside pro-Assad forces.

"Hezbollah has sent new elite troops to Qusayr. They have already taken many prisoners from among the rebels, including non-Syrians," the source said on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, the Observatory's Abdel Rahman described the rebels' resistance in Qusayr as "fierce".

"The rebels are putting up a fierce resistance, refusing to abandon the civilians," he said.

"But Hezbollah and the loyalist army are staging an extremely fierce assault," he added.

The Assad regime has made taking back Qusayr a priority.

Syria army in control

The Observatory, like the opposition, has repeatedly expressed concern for the fate of some 25 000 civilians still trapped in the town.

Pro-regime daily Al-Watan meanwhile said loyalists had taken control of all Qusayr's official buildings.

"The Syrian army has taken control of all government buildings... in Qusayr and in the nearby countryside of Homs province, and raised the Syrian flag above it," said the daily.

The army was still advancing into the city, which has been under a tight siege for more than a year.

"Dozens of terrorists have been killed or wounded in the battles, some of them Arabs or foreigners," the daily said, citing an unnamed military source.

Meanwhile in nearby Lebanon, shells launched from Syrian positions onto the Sunni area of Wadi Khaled wounded nine people, an official told AFP.

"Nine people were injured, including a woman and two children, when shells launched from Syria hit the village of Munaysa," said the official.

Wadi Khaled has become home to a large number of people fleeing the conflict raging in Syria. Most of its population opposes Assad.

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