Syria: President Assad’s forces plan to re-take Aleppo with Hezbollah after capturing border town of Qusayr

Rebels lose strategic town of Qusayr after three weeks of bitter fighting

The forces of Bashar al-Assad are thought to be preparing an assault on Syria’s biggest city after capturing the strategically important town of Qusayr with large-scale backing from Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

The rebels’ loss of the town – which holds symbolic value to both sides in the country’s vicious civil war – after three weeks of bitter fighting comes amid reports that the regime is readying an attempt to re-take Aleppo.

Such an attack could come with further help from Hezbollah; some commanders of the Shia militia claim they are ready to take thousands of men across the border.

The opposition holds about half of the northern city, and a battle to retake it is likely to be bloody with the opposition aware that failure to hang on to their positions would be a setback.

Large swathes of territory remain outside the control of the regime two and half years since the start of the uprising. But recent gains being made on the ground have put President Assad in a stronger position before peace talks in a bid to end the conflict which has claimed 80,000 lives so far. UN international envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, said the delayed talks may happen in July. American and Russian officials held a preliminary meeting in Geneva, the venue for the projected talks. The Syrian National Council (SNC), an umbrella group of the opposition, maintains that no ceasefire is possible while President Assad stays in power and Hezbollah participates in the fighting.

The expectation among diplomats remains that the SNC will be persuaded to attend the talks by its backers in the Arab League and the West. There is deep apprehension that the talks failing, or not taking place, would accelerate the spread of strife from Syria into neighbouring countries.

Residents in the predominantly Shia suburb of Dahiyah in Beirut celebrated after news broke of the fall of Qusayr. The movement’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has given unequivocal backing to the Assad regime, and its involvement in Syria is likely to increase rather if fighting continues.

Furthermore, the entry of the Shia militia will further demarcate the war along sectarian lines between the Alawites, a Shia offshoot from which President Assad and the ruling elite are drawn and the mainly Sunni opposition.

Anxiety to keep the Geneva talks on track is seen as one of the reasons why the Americans are urging caution after the latest claim, by France and Britain, that the regime has been using sarin gas. Officials in Washington stated that stronger evidence would be needed to prove that President Assad had crossed the “red line” on chemical weapons set down by Barack Obama.

Meanwhile, humanitarian organisations called for help for victims of conventional weapons in Qusayr. Doctors said there was little or no medicine left for the severely injured who could not leave when much of the population fled the fighting. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it hoped to gain access. “There are reports of hundreds of people that have been wounded,” spokeswoman Rima Kamal told the BBC.

Qusayr, which had a population of 30,000 before the attack, was of great value to the opposing sides. Its capture means the regime holds a land corridor to the Mediterranean coast where the Alawite community is mainly based. Before the recent gains, there had been speculation President Assad would retreat there if Damascus fell.

The rebels have now lost their supply line to the Lebanese border just six miles away, and Sunni villages in the area are more vulnerable to the actions of the regime and Hezbollah.

Although most of the rebel fighters in Qusayr had been locals, volunteers from other parts of the country came to defend the town. Among them were several hundred from Jabhat al-Nusra, a hardline Islamist group prescribed as a terrorist organisation by the US.

General Salim Idriss, the head of the opposition’s Free Syria Army, had accused the Lebanese government of doing nothing while Hezbollah “invaded” Syria. “There are now a very large number of Hezbollah fighters in Syria,” he declared, saying this entitled the rebels to carry out attacks on the Shia militia inside Lebanon.

Abu Qassem, a rebel commander in Idlib province, said his forces were preparing to face an onslaught. “Bashar’s troops are getting a lot of arms from Iran and Russia, especially long-range rockets, and they are having an effect. We also know that Hezbollah have a lot more of their fighters inside Syria than they used to. They will try to come this way and they will try to terrorise people, so we must be ready.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
News
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

C#.NET Server Side Developer (C#, XML, WCF, Unit Testing,SQL)

£30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C#.NET ...

Junior Database developer (SQL, T-SQL, Excel, SSRS)

£20000 - £30000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Junior D...

Helpdesk Team Leader / Manager

£45000 per annum + pension,medical: Ashdown Group: A successful & reputable gl...

IT Systems Manager

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

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition
Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?