Syrian Regime Unleashes Artillery Barrage on Qusayr Backed by Hizbullah, Takes Key Town

Syrian forces entered a key objective north of the besieged central town of Qusayr on Saturday, the army said, battling rebels inside the former military airport of Dabaa.

"The Syrian army infiltrated Dabaa airport from the northwest, and now fighting is taking place inside the airport after they broke the rebel defense lines," an army source said.

Activists said elite troops from the army and its ally Hizbullah led the attack.

The former military airport lies just outside Qusayr on the only road north of the town.

Earlier on Saturday, forces loyal to Assad unleashed their heaviest artillery and rocket barrage yet in a week-long battle to dislodge rebels from a strategic western town, activists said.

Pro-Assad troops, including fighters from Hizbullah, have been trying to push rebels out of Qusayr. They have gained ground, but rebels have clung to some positions.

Rami Abdul Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told Agence France Presse "the fighting and shelling, which took place on Saturday on the main roads inside and outside of Qusayr, are the most intense since the beginning of the offensive."

He said Qusayr, rebel areas north of the town like Hamdiyeh, Dabaa and Arjuneh have been subjected to heavy bombardment by regime forces using surface-to-surface missiles.

Qusayr is a key prize for the rebels, a conduit through which weapons and fighters can be channeled from Lebanon, only about 10 kilometers (six miles) away.

It is also important for Assad's forces because of its strategic location between Damascus and the Mediterranean coast, the Alawite heartland of the embattled president's regime.

Rahman said "the intensification of the fighting can be explained by Hizbullah's desire to score points before the speech their leader Hasan Nasrallah is due to deliver this evening," marking the 13th anniversary of Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon.

On Friday, anti-regime demonstrators across Syria denounced the Hizbullah chief, waving placards reading "Nasrallah, impostor of the resistance," and "Homs is not Jerusalem," a reference to the group's slogan about liberating Jerusalem.

Source: Agence France Presse, Associated Press

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