Syria civil war: Hezbollah takes fight to anti-Assad rebels as they storm rebel-held town of Qusair

Militia offensive kills dozens as regime attempts to secure control of coast road

Jerusalem

Hezbollah launched a major offensive in support of the Assad regime today, with fighters from the Lebanese militant group playing their most significant role yet in Syria’s two-year-old civil war.

Opposition activists claim Hezbollah fighters, who were supporting regular Syrian troops, stormed the rebel-held town of Qusair, only six miles from the Lebanese border. They fired multiple mortar rounds and launched rocket-propelled grenades in an attack that witnesses say killed at least 32 people.

An opposition activist, Hadi Abdallah, told the Reuters news agency that Syrian warplanes had bombed Qusair in the morning, while artillery shells were hitting the town at a rate of up to 50 a minute.

“The army is hitting Qusair with tanks and artillery from the north and east while Hezbollah is firing mortar rounds and multiple rocket launchers from the south and west,” he said. “Most of the dead are civilians killed by the shelling.” Qusair is a strategically important town because it allows those holding it to control the coastal road. Its proximity to the Lebanese border also allows the regular Syrian army to link directly with Hezbollah. Reports suggest the town has been besieged by Syrian troops for weeks.

Syrian television said the army was “leading an operation against terrorists in Qusair”, with troops reaching the town’s centre.

“Our heroic forces are advancing toward Qusair and are chasing the remnants of the terrorists and have hoisted the Syrian flag on the  municipality building,” the report said. “In the next few hours we will give you joyous news.” Reports suggested that as many as eight Hezbollah fighters had been killed in the operation.

The group’s ever greater role in supporting the Assad regime will be worrying news in Israel.

Benjamin Netanyahu used a cabinet meeting to warn that Israel is prepared to launch further raids against Syria if it believes the desperate civil war on its northern border threatens to spill over. Israel and Hezbollah fought a six-week-long war in 2006.

Although not formally acknowledged by the Israeli government, the Jewish state launched at least three attacks on sites near Damascus two weeks ago. Mr Netanyahu’s administration has consistently said that it will act to prevent groups such as Hezbollah getting their hands on the advanced weapons known to be held by the Syrians and turning them on Israeli cities.

Speaking at the meeting of his senior ministers, the Israeli leader, said: “[The Middle East] is in one of its most sensitive periods in decades with the escalating upheaval in Syria at its centre. We are closely monitoring the developments and changes there and are prepared for any scenario. The government of Israel is working responsibly and with determination and sagacity, in order to ensure the supreme interest of the State of Israel ... [to] prevent the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah and to [other] terrorist elements.”

Mr Netanyahu’s comments came as Russia deployed 12 warships to the Mediterranean, in a move that has been interpreted as an aggressive act meant as a warning to Israel and Western countries against any further military intervention in the Syrian conflict.

Russia maintains a naval base in Syria at Tartus and has provided weaponry to the Assad regime. The deployment of warships comes days after Russia said it would supply Syria with a number of Yakhont anti-ship cruise missiles, which have a range of 200 miles.

Assad insists he will not step down as President of Syria

Bashar al-Assad has dismissed the prospect of new peace talks in Syria leading to a lasting settlement and stated that he has no intention of stepping down.

“We do not believe that many Western countries really want a solution in Syria”, the Syrian President told the Argentinian newspaper Clarin. “There cannot be a unilateral solution in Syria; two parties are needed at least,” he said.

Mr Assad also appeared to backtrack on suggestions that his government would be willing to talk to certain rebel groups, describing those that are fighting to secure his downfall as “ terrorists”.

In what will come as a blow to those who believe his departure is necessary for restoring order in Syria, Mr Assad said that he has no intention of stepping down – indeed, he said, he would run again for the presidency in elections scheduled for 2014.

Video: Devastation in the town of Yabroud, Syria and the aftermath in nearby Douma

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
From Mean Girls to Mamet: Lindsay Lohan
theatre
Sport
Nathaniel Clyne (No 2) drives home his side's second goal past Arsenal’s David Ospina at the Emirates
footballArsenal 1 Southampton 2: Arsène Wenger pays the price for picking reserve side in Capital One Cup
News
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
peopleFormer boxer 'watched over' crash victim until ambulance arrived
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
i100
Travel
travelGallery And yes, it is indoors
Arts and Entertainment
The Tiger Who Came To Tea
booksJudith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed'
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
John Terry, Frank Lampard
footballChelsea captain sends signed shirt to fan whose mum had died
News
people
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

Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

£16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

BBC Television Centre

A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

My George!

Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world