From amid the ruins new hope for Syrian rebels

The recapture of Qusayr could be a turning point

As representatives of 11 countries supporting the Syrian rebels met in Qatar over the weekend pledging to supply them with arms, Syrian military officers in the recaptured town of Qusayr expressed confidence that rebels will never be able to retake their old stronghold.

The rebel defeat at Qusayr – south of Homs and close to the Lebanese border – after a two-week assault by government forces earlier this month has had a crucial political impact.

Outside powers realised that President Bashar al-Assad’s overthrow was not as inevitable as they had imagined. The so-called Friends of Syria, which include the US, Britain, France, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, now promise military and other aid to enable the rebels to repel the government offensive.

Qusayr looks firmly under the control of the Syrian army, but the government is taking no chances. On the road to this once prosperous market town, set amid olive and almond trees, there are military checkpoints every few hundred yards, where soldiers carefully examine identity documents.

The debris of battle is all around in the shape of wrecked buildings, burnt orchards, a smashed mosque with its minaret lying on the ground and a burnt-out tank.

The government always held part of Qusayr town and it is only beyond the old front line that all buildings on the main street have been torn apart by shellfire. The old telecommunications building is a spectacular heap of smashed concrete, while the minaret of an another old mosque has a gaping hole in it, though it is still standing. There are almost no civilians about aside from two small boys on bicycles, who seemed cheerfully oblivious to the ruins around them.

Off the main street, the disruption is not quite so bad. People are beginning to trickle back. Qusayr had been surrounded by rich farmland, and had a surprising number of shops. Most of these have been wrecked, their metal screens buckled and twisted by the force of explosions.

We spoke to a young man called Shibli Halaq, who 10 days ago had returned to Qusayr, “where I used to own a perfume shop”. Lack of perfume is not the town’s most pressing shortage, but he seemed confident he would soon be back in business. He said he and his family had left the town 14 months ago, because they did not like the rebel factions. Their place of exile was his grandfather’s house two miles away.

Mr Halaq had come back with his three brothers to clean up their house before their family return. He said, “Fifteen families are back in our street and more will come.”

Looking down side streets it was evident that most civilian houses had escaped damage from shellfire but had been thoroughly looted by one side or the other. Mr Halaq was waiting for the water and electricity to be switched on, which he expected to happen in the next few days.

Ahmed, a young soldier who was our guide, blamed most of the heavy damage on the rebels and said they had planted mines everywhere. A construction worker had been killed by one exploding the previous day.

Could the rebels of the Free Syrian Army return? An army major, who refused to give his name, said, “If we keep control they won’t be able to.”

Some of this was bravado, but the army does seem to have a tight grip on the town. But areas of rebel and government control are very close to one another, and each side is in a position to launch a surprise attack.

We had an example of this later in the day, when I asked to visit a military hospital in the al-Waar district in the northern outskirts of Homs. A car with security men in it that was driving us took a circuitous route out of the city and back “to avoid dangerous roads”.

Crossing a bridge over the motorway to the city of Hama to the north, we saw that it had been closed to traffic by earth embankments, indicating that the rest of the road is under rebel control. There were other barricades sealing off roads going to rebel-held districts. The soldiers on sentry duty looked on edge. When we got to the military hospital, we waited a long time at the gate until we were told that we could not enter “without a permit from military intelligence”.

Despite the government’s success at Qusayr, the military situation around Homs feels like a stalemate. Even in Damascus, where government forces are meant to be advancing, we had to divert off a main road because snipers were shooting at vehicles at a suburb called Harasta. At this spot, snipers had recently shot dead two chicken farmers and a man bringing olive oil to the market.

Dangerous ground

The two-week battle for Qusayr ended on 5 June, when rebels conceded they had been forced from the strategically important town by regime forces. The city’s recapture has been seen as a key victory for President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, because it provided a vital lifeline for rebel factions as a principal transit point for weapons and fighters from neighbouring Lebanon. It is useful to the regime for similar reasons, and is located on the road linking Damascus with regime strongholds on the coast.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?