Syrian State TV on Wednesday reported that President Bashar Assad’s army was now in full control of the embattled border town of Qusair, where fighting raged with rebels for nearly three weeks.
The TV report said regime troops “restored security and peace” after successfully dismantling the “terrorist networks” operating in the town over the last few days.
“At 6.30 a.m., Qusair became secure,” an official said.
An official in the governor’s office of Homs province confirmed the report, but a rebel source quoted by Al Jazeera said the rebels lost ground but were still fighting in the city.
Government troops, backed by Lebanon’s Hezbollah fighters, began a wide offensive against rebel forces in Qusair on May 19. Both sides in the conflict value Qusair, which lies along a land corridor linking two Assad strongholds, the capital of Damascus and an area along the Mediterranean coast that is the heartland of his minority Alawite sect.
For the rebels, who had been in control of the town shortly ever since after the uprising against Assad began in March 2011, holding Qusair meant protecting their supply line to Lebanon, just six miles away.
Free Syrian Army chief of staff Salim Idris, speaking to the BBC, rejected claims that the rebels were losing the fight against Assad, “despite recent setbacks.” It was not clear whether Idris was referring to Qusair.
Speaking with Al Arabiya, Idris said 15,000 Hezbollah fighters had invaded the border region between Lebanon and Syria and were fighting alongside Syrian army forces. He claimed that eight Hezbollah soldiers were recently killed in battles with rebels near the capital Damascus.
“Hezbollah fighters are invading Syrian territory. And when they continue to do that and the Lebanese authorities don’t take any action to stop them coming to Syria, I think we are allowed to fight Hezbollah fighters inside [Lebanese] territory,” he told the BBC.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah on May 25 admitted for the first time that his group sent “a few” fighters to assist his ally Assad in the fight against rebels.
Lebanon’s Al-Mayadeen TV, which has reporters embedded with Syrian troops, was reporting live from the town, showing images of damaged buildings. The reporter said there was no sign of fighting.
The municipal building in the center of Qusair appeared to be pockmarked from fighting. A Syrian flag was raised above it, claiming government control of the town.