Syria: Turning Point in the Battle of Qusayr
By: Radwan Mortada
Published Monday, May 20, 2013
After weeks of reinforcing their positions around Qusayr near the Lebanese border, Syrian government forces stormed the strategic town early on Sunday. Many opposition fighters fled, accusing their commanders of betrayal.
Both opposition and army sources on the ground in Qusayr agree that the town – taken by opposition fighters early on in the Syrian crisis – will be in the hands of the regime in a matter of days.
For weeks now, government forces have been conducting military operations around the strategic town, which is located to the southwest of Homs, a few kilometers from the northern tip of Lebanon.
After securing nearly all the villages in the surrounding area, the Syrian army entered Qusayr Sunday morning under heavy fire power, killing 90 opposition fighters and injuring hundreds, according to opposition sources inside the besieged town.
Many fighters managed to break the government siege and escape through a secret route that led to Josiah and the Qalamoun Mountains to the south. But, according to opposition sources, the regime found out about the escape route nearly a week ago and blocked it, killing and injuring around 30 fighters in the process.
Starting around two years ago, the opposition started to gather a large number of fighters in the town, estimated to range between 6,000 and 10,000. They built a network of bunkers and trenches in some neighborhoods in preparation for any attack by government forces.
But all talk of a Grozny-like scenario if the regime dared enter Qusayr melted away as the Syrian army – assisted by Hezbollah fighters, according to opposition sources – stormed the town and reached the central market within a few hours. It will, however, take a few more days before government troops have full control.
The turning point in the battle of Qusayr came six days earlier, when regime forces managed to take the strategic area of al-Tal, which overlooks the town and much of the surrounding area.
Opposition sources claim that the Tal area “was sold out to Hezbollah by some of our leaders, who then fled the fighting,” adding that this “betrayal” cost the two main opposition groups who control Qusayr – the Salafi Farouk and Wadi Brigades – heavy losses. Some of the fighters on the ground even named several commanders, whom they accused of buying their way out of Qusayr at the last minute.
Regime forces used heavy fire power, including air strikes, in addition to the element of surprise to break through opposition defenses in the city. “We mobilized our forces to the north to repel an expected attack by the Syrian army and Hezbollah,” a local commander told Al-Akhbar, “but we were surprised when they entered from the south, east, and west.”
Opposition sources say that they were expecting the military to attempt to retake those villages that were still not under its control before trying to enter Qusayr. Instead, an opposition fighter explains, they were surprised by an attack “that was launched from the Shia villages to the west of the Assi river...with Hezbollah fighters descending on us from the Tal area.”
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.