Syria: Qusayr Battle Far From Over
By: Marah Mashi
Published Wednesday, May 22, 2013
The Syrian army may have made some rapid advances in the battle for the town of Qusayr, but a short visit to the embattled city reveals that the opposition is digging in for a long fight.
No doubt, opposition forces were surprised by the Syrian army’s quick sweep into Qusayr. But the battle for the city is not as it is pictured in the media. Even military sources admit that they are “advancing cautiously” as they confront a large group of opposition fighters who have reinforced their positions in the northern section of Qusayr.
The road to Homs and then on Qusayr is but a series of checkpoints that only increase as you approach the embattled city. Along the way, we veer close to the Dabaa airport, which remains under the opposition’s control. Soldiers must pass through here on their way to Qusayr, and can only do so under protection of heavy gunfire to prevent opposition snipers from picking them off.
The city is a battleground in every sense of the word: its barren streets are filled with barricades, and the sounds of explosions seem to come from every direction, pausing for a few moments before resuming with a vengeance. By all appearances, this is no ordinary battle – the extent of destruction and the intensity of fighting suggest that this city is witnessing one of the ugliest rounds of warfare since the outbreak of the Syrian crisis.
Few civilians remain in the city. Most of those left are old, and none are willing to talk to the media, particularly when it comes to the subject of opposition fighters. Morale seems to be high among government troops, who have managed to completely surround the city. Certainly recent news about the death of al-Nusra Front commander Abu Omar has further lifted their spirits.
Rumors about the movement of opposition fighters from the surrounding areas – including “hundred” from Yabroud and the Qalamoun Mountains – reach the military’s operation rooms in Qusayr. This is after the Syrian border guard managed to stop fighters coming from the nearby Wadi Khaled area in Lebanon.
Syrian military planners made the right decision by first cutting off Qusayr from the east along the Lebanese border, across which most of the local opposition’s weapons and fighters were smuggled. If regime forces regain control of the city, they will likely turn north against opposition positions in Homs and Rastan, which rely heavily on support from Lebanon and Qusayr.
Retaking the city would also put an end to the possibility of setting up a hardline Salafi emirate in Qusayr, which would have served as a thorn in the side of Hezbollah and the Shia Lebanese villages of the Hermel region, and could have easily led to a full-fledged sectarian war on both sides of the border.
Commanders on the ground say that battle for Qusayr is far from over and could take another week before they can seize the opposition’s stronghold in the north of the city. Standing on the roof of a building that serves as an observation post for government troops, it’s clear from the intensity of the fighting that their advance in that direction will be grueling and costly.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.