05/21/2013 - #Syria - Aleppo - Rebel reinforcements head to Qusayr
The ongoing clashes in Lebanon’s troubled northern city of Lebanon heated up Tuesday afternoon, leaving at least one person dead and a number others injured.
Sniper activity intensified in rival neighborhoods of Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tebbaneh starting at noon, leading to the death of a 30-year old civilian identified as Mohammad Rashid Sultani, the National News Agency reported.
The report added that two injured people were rushed to Tripoli’s Islamic Charity Hospital, which has hosted a number of other wounded Tripoli residents since the deadly clashes that have killed at least 5 people began Sunday afternoon.
Meanwhile, OTV reported that a Jaba Moshen resident—identified as Youssef al-Saqa—was also killed in the intensifying clashes.
Heavy gunfire rocked the battlefronts amid the explosions of rocket-propelled grenade rounds, local media outlets reported, with Al-Jadeed television saying an ambulance was targeted by sniper fire on the Tripoli-Akkar highway.
The ongoing clashes erupted Sunday afternoon, leaving four people dead before today’s violence, including two Lebanese Armed Forces soldiers who were killed when army troops came under heavy gunfire Monday as they attempted deploy on Syria Street separating Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tebbaneh.
The fighting in Tripoli came as troops backed by Lebanon’s Hezbollah reportedly entered Al-Qusayr, a strategic rebel stronghold linking Damascus to the Mediterranean coast.
Sunni Sheikhs Rafei and Ahmad al-Assir in April had called on Lebanese Sunnis to assist the rebels in Al-Qusayr, however Rafei on Sunday denied that the clashes were linked to the Al-Qusayr campaign.
Jabal Mohsen residents have frequently clashed with locals from neighboring areas in the troubled northern city of Tripoli. These recurrent disputes triggered by sectarian differences also reflect a split in Lebanon’s political scene in which opposition parties back the revolt in Syria while the ruling coalition, led by Hezbollah, supports the Damascus regime.
N O W - 05/21/2013
Syrian troops backed by Lebanon’s Hezbollah on Sunday entered Al-Qusayr, a strategic rebel stronghold linking Damascus to the coast, a day after President Bashar al-Assad insisted he would not quit.
The advance came as Assad’s opponents warned his regime’s “barbaric and destructive” assault on Al-Qusayr could torpedo US-Russian attempts to organize a conference on ending two years of bloodshed in the country.
The Arab League called an emergency meeting for Thursday, ahead of the conference, as the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) demanded it meet and “stop the massacre in Al-Qusayr.”
Forces loyal to Assad launched Sunday’s offensive by heavily bombarding Al-Qusayr with artillery and warplanes early in the morning.
Hours later, a military source told AFP that government forces entered the center of the town, with troops raising the Syrian flag over the recaptured municipality building.
“The Syrian army controls Al-Qusayr’s main square in the center of the city, and the surrounding buildings, including the municipality building,” said the source.
State television said: “Our valiant troops have restored security and stability to the Al-Qusayr municipality building and surrounding buildings and are continuing to hunt down terrorists in the town.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said regime troops began carrying out air strikes backed by artillery fire against the town early on Sunday, before the group operation started.
“The assault on Al-Qusayr has started. There is fierce fighting between rebels and the army around the entrances to the town,” Observator director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
Troops were entering from the south, and fighters from the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, a key ally of the Syrian regime, were “playing a central role,” he added.
“If the army manages to take control of Al-Qusayr, the whole province of Homs will fall,” he said.
The group said the army carried out additional air strikes on Sunday afternoon, and that at least 40 people were killed throughout the day, including 21 rebel fighters.
The regime has made recapturing Al-Qusayr and the surrounding district of Homs province a key objective, and fierce fighting has raged in the vicinity for months.
In recent weeks, government troops backed by Hezbollah and members of the National Defense Forces, a pro-regime militia, have taken a string of villages and reportedly surrounded Al-Qusayr on three sides.
The fighting has spilled over into Lebanon, and on Sunday the country’s National News Agency said eight rockets fired from Syria landed in Lebanese territory, without causing any damage or injuries.
Responding to news of the assault on the city, the SNC, a key component of the main opposition National Coalition, denounced the “barbaric and destructive bombing” of Al-Qusayr.
It accused the regime of working with Hezbollah to “invade the town and wipe it and its residents off the map,” and called for “an urgent meeting of the Arab League to stop the massacre in Al-Qusayr.”
“We say to the countries that are working for a political solution in Syria that allowing this invasion to go ahead in silence… will render any conference and any peace effort meaningless.”
The Syrian military was also advancing on other fronts, taking control of the rebel-held village of Halfaya in Hama province, the Observatory said.
State television reported the army “killed numerous terrorists from Al-Nusra Front in Halfaya” and destroyed weaponry.
In Damascus, a military source said troops were advancing in Barzeh district on the northern outskirts of the city.
The Observatory estimates at least 94,000 people have been killed since the anti-Assad uprising began in March 2011.
AFP - 05/19/2013
Syria’s army has dropped leaflets over Al-Qusayr in central Homs province, warning civilians to leave ahead of an attack that will be launched if rebels holding the town do not surrender, a military source said on Friday.
“Leaflets were dropped over Al-Qusayr asking civilians to leave the city, with a map of a safe route by which to evacuate, because the attack against the city is coming soon if the rebels do not surrender,” the source told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Troops backed by fighters from the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah have advanced throughout the area around Al-Qusayr, which fell to the rebels more than a year ago.
Activists said Al-Qusayr is surrounded by government forces on three sides, and that approximately 25,000 residents are believed to still be in the city.
The area has been a strategic boon to the rebels, who used it as a base from which to block the main road from Damascus to the coast, impeding military movement and supply chains.
It is also important because of its proximity to Lebanon.
The regime has made recapturing it a key objective. President Bashar al-Assad reportedly said last month that fighting in the area was the “main battle” his troops were waging.
Activists say regime forces there are backed by fighters from Hezbollah, as well as members of the National Defense Force, a pro-regime militia.
Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights watchdog said at least 72 people were killed throughout the country in violence on Thursday, including 33 rebels, 21 civilians and 18 soldiers.
AFP - 05/10/2013
By David Enders
TALBISEH, SYRIA — This city is almost completely empty after a week of heavy shelling by the Syrian government. But it is empty of government forces as well.
The shelling, which killed 20 civilians and five rebel fighters, failed to dislodge rebels who had driven the Syrian military out of nearly a dozen bases and checkpoints in the city over a period of two days earlier this month.
Syrian president Bashar Assad has promised a new offensive to drive rebels from their strongholds in the center of Homs, the country’s third largest city, as the civil war in Syria grinds on. Opposition activist groups reported that Syrian troops bombarded Homs on Sunday with mortar rounds and heavy machine guns, leaving at least 11 people dead.
The site of the worst violence in the country since a peaceful uprising against Assad became an armed rebellion last year, Homs has been preparing for more fighting as Syrian troops massed around rebel-held neighborhoods there over the weekend. But the troop buildup belied the fact that more of the countryside around Homs – which includes Talbiseh – had fallen out of the government’s control.
The rebel offensive and the Syrian military’s heavy shelling prompted the United Nations on Saturday to call off its efforts to monitor a cease-fire that was supposed to take effect in April but never did. The head of the U.N. mission, Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, the chief of the U.N. observer mission in Syria, cited clashes over the past 10 days that were “posing significant risks” to the force of 300 unarmed observers.
Syrian troops were also driven out of Rastan, a city of similar size to Talbiseh about 10 miles to the north, earlier this month. The victory came at a heavy cost as some parts of the city were entirely destroyed. Both Rastan and Talbiseh lie on the north-south highway that is the country’s main artery and connects the capital of Damascus, south of Homs, to Aleppo, the country’s largest city and economic hub, in the north.
“We have a plan to control this area,” said Abdel Rizaq Tlass, the leader of the Farouq Brigade, one of the largest groups of rebels in Homs province that operates under the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army, the name taken by the majority of armed rebels in Syria.
The fighting around Homs suggests Syrian troops in the area are largely demoralized as highly motivated and increasingly well armed and organized rebel forces go on the offensive. The fighting in Talbiseh involved hundreds of rebels.
“We didn’t imagine they had these numbers and so much equipment,” said a man who identified himself as a Syrian army captain who surrendered to the rebels in Talbiseh last week and was allowed to join them. He asked not to be named for his protection.
“Many of the soldiers ran away when the attacks began,” said Mahmoud Najjar, a spokesman for the Farouq Brigade in Talbiseh.
Farouq’s group of fighters in Qusayr, southwest of Homs, launched attacks on checkpoints all over that city on Friday and Saturday, reportedly driving the military out of the southern part of the city. Qusayr, the largest city between the Lebanese border and Homs, had been split between the rebels and the government’s forces for months.
The takeover of Qusayr was impossible to verify independently.
In both Rastan and Talbiseh, destroyed Syrian tanks and armored personnel carriers remained on the streets – including one near Talbiseh that remained in the median of the highway.
“We captured two armored personnel carriers and used them before the government destroyed them with helicopters,” Najjar said, adding that the cannons and heavy machine guns salvaged from some of the destroyed APCs would be mounted on rebel pickup trucks.
Tlass, who is based in Rastan, said the group had seized tanks from the Syrian military, and on Saturday, Farouq fighters in Qusayr sent footage to the Al Jazeera television network that showed them in possession of a tank and captured anti-aircraft weaponry. Najjar said that Farouq’s fighters in Talbiseh had managed to capture large amounts of ammunition in the offensive there, and were in possession of anti-tank rockets bought from weapons smugglers and captured from the military.
Rebels said casualties on the government side were far higher than those for the rebels.
“We killed about 40 soldiers here,” said Najjar, as he walked around a school in Talbiseh the Syrian army had used as a base. “Seven soldiers from the Free Army were killed.”
The Syrian military continued to shell Talbiseh and Rastan on Saturday and Sunday, killing a civilian and fighter there. At least four people were killed in Farhaniyeh, a village on the highway between Talbiseh and Farhaniyeh, by a helicopter strike on Saturday that hit a bakery.
“They are using helicopters more frequently now because they can’t control the ground,” Najjar said.
In both Rastan and Talbiseh, rebels were making plans to destroy Syrian army positions that were still being used to shell the area. FSA fighters had surrounded the closest Syrian military base to Rastan and said they were waiting to see if the soldiers would surrender before launching attack.
On Sunday, rebels captured five Syrian soldiers who attempted to leave the base for supplies.
“The soldiers are scared of us,” said Najjar.