AMMAN (Reuters) - About 30 fighters from the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and 20 Syrian soldiers and militiamen loyal to President Bashar al-Assad were killed in heavy fighting with rebels in the town of Qusair, Syrian activists said on Monday.
Opposition sources and state media gave sharply differing accounts of the outcome of Sunday’s ferocious battles in the town, long used by rebels as a supply route from the nearby Lebanese border to the provincial capital Homs.
The assault on Qusair appeared to be part of a campaign by Assad’s forces to consolidate their grip on Damascus and secure links between the capital and the government strongholds on the coast via the contested central city of Homs.
State news agency SANA said the army had “restored security and stability to most Qusair neighbourhoods” and was “chasing the remnants of the terrorists in the northern district”.
However, opposition activists said rebels in Qusair, about 10 km (six miles) from the Lebanese border, had pushed back most of the attacking forces to their original positions in the east of the town and to the south on Sunday, destroying at least four Syrian army tanks and five light Hezbollah vehicles.
The activists did not give a figure for the number of rebel fighters and civilians killed in the clashes. The pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 48 rebels had been killed, as well as four civilians, three of them women.
The Observatory’s director, Rahim Abdurahman, put Hezbollah casualties at 23 dead and 70 wounded. Lebanese security sources said at least 12 Hezbollah fighters had been killed.
Tareq Murei, a local activist, said troops backed by Hezbollah had “made incursions into Qusair but they are now basically back to where they started at the security compounds in east Qusair and at a ... roadblock to the south.”
“Hezbollah’s multiple rocket-launchers are now hitting Qusair from Syrian territory west of the Orontes river, along with Syrian army artillery. Six people have been killed since the morning,” he told Reuters on Monday.
Video footage purportedly showed a Syrian tank at a street corner in the town on fire. In another video a warplane was shown flying over the town amid the sound of explosions.
Syrian government restrictions on access for independent media make it hard to verify such videos and accounts.
Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Amman newsroom; Editing by Alistair Lyon