After driving rebel forces from strategic town, General Command says success sends ‘a clear message’ to aggressors
Times of Israel
Following its reported victory over rebel forces in the strategic town of Qusair, the Syrian Army on Wednesday warned that the Assad regime is prepared to face all of its aggressors in its efforts to defend the country — including Israel.
The General Command of the Army and the Armed Forces issued a statement declaring its success in restoring security and stability to the town by clearing it of what it called “terrorists,” the official Syrian news agency SANA reported. The army called on residents of the war-torn town to return to their homes.
“The victory that was achieved at the hands of our brave soldiers sends a clear message to all those who are involved in the aggression against Syria, on top being the Zionist enemy and its agents in the region and tools on the ground,” the General Command said. “Our armed forces will remain ready to face any aggression against our dear homeland.”
In what it described as “a series of accurate successful operations carried out in the city and the villages and towns surrounding it” the army announced that it had killed a large number of terrorists. The Syrian forces said they were engaged in mine clearing operations as well as opening barricaded roads.
Although vowing to continue fighting against the insurgency the army also appeared to offer clemency to rebels who lay down their weapons and give up the fight.
“The armed forces will look with a merciful eye at those mislead gunmen who surrender and drop their weapons, whether those who fled Qusair or any area in Syria,” the statement said but warned that “the homeland’s soil is sacred and can’t be desecrated, and whoever tries to desecrate it will end up either dead or surrendering.”
The General Command also claimed that documents captured during the battle showed that regional Arab and foreign elements were involved in the civil war racking Syria. The army added that the material is being studied and will be made public “at the right time.”
Syrian State TV reported earlier in the day 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.