Syria unleashes artillery barrage

2013-05-25 17:03
(Photo: AFP)

(Photo: AFP)

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Beirut - Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad shelled a strategic western town on Saturday in their heaviest barrage of a week-long battle to dislodge rebels from there, activists said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 22 people, including 18 rebels, had been killed in the fighting and dozens had been wounded.

Pro-Assad troops, including fighters from the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, have been trying to push rebels out of Qusair.

The Syrian state media has said troops steadily gained ground, including on Saturday.

Local activists have denied regime gains and said rebel fighters are defending positions.

Qusair is important to Assad because it sits on a land corridor linking two of his strongholds, the capital of Damascus and towns on the Mediterranean coast.

Holding Qusair for the rebels mean protecting a supply line to Lebanon, 10km away.

Saturday's barrage of rockets, mortar rounds and tank shells began after daybreak, said Qusair activist Hadi Abdullah and the pro-opposition Observatory.

Both said it had been the most intense shelling since the regime launched its offensive there a week ago.

They also reported heavy gunfire.

Invaders

The intense shelling could be heard in Lebanon's border areas and in the Syrian city of Homs, about 25km away.

The fighting over Qusair has highlighted Hezbollah's growing role in Syria's civil war.

The militia initially tried to play down its involvement, but could no longer do so after several dozen of its fighters were killed in Qusair and buried in large funerals in Lebanon.

In Turkey, the acting president of Syria's main opposition group harshly criticized Hezbollah for its role in Qusair.

"Some Lebanese are being sent to Syria as invaders in order to return back home in coffins draped with shame," said George Sabra of the Syrian National Coalition.

The Syrian fighting has repeatedly spilled over into Lebanon, whose sectarian divide mirrors that of Syria.

Assad opponents and supporters have been clashing for the past week in the Lebanese port city of Tripoli, using mortars, grenades and machine guns to attack densely populated areas.

Four people were killed by sniper fire Saturday, bringing the week's death toll to 29 including three Lebanese soldiers, said a Lebanese official who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with military regulations. More than 200 people have been wounded.






Read more on:    bashar assad  |  lebanon  |  syria  |  syria conflict

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