After two months of heavy fighting, Syrian troops, backed by the Lebanese Hizbollah, have recaptured the strategic town of Qusair, opening the doors for government consolidation over vast swathes of territory in country’s centre and the coastline to the west.
This strategic defeat of the armed opposition could turn out to be defining the moment of a conflict that has lasted more than two bloodstained years. Speaking to Beirut-based Mayadeen television, Brigadier General Yahya Suleiman of the army said: “Whoever controls Qusair controls the centre of the country, and whoever controls the centre of the country controls all of Syria”.
The victory was symbolised by riveting images on Lebanon’s Al Manar television of a man planting the Syrian flag on top of the town’s bullet-riddled clock tower. “Our heroic armed forces have returned security and stability to all of the town of Qusair,” said a triumphant statement carried by state television.
The rebels have acknowledged their defeat. In a statement quoted by Reuters, they said: “In [the] face of this huge arsenal and lack of supplies and the blatant intervention of Hizbollah... tens of fighters stayed behind and ensured the withdrawal of their comrades along with the civilians.”
Analysts point out that Qusair’s fall means the routes from northern Lebanon, used for funnelling weapons, supplies and personnel to the rebels, have been blocked. The cutting of supply lines in turn implies that the city of Homs — the hotbed of the anti-government revolt — has been successfully isolated.
The taking of Qusair has vital implications on two other counts: Damascus will now be easily connected to the coastal areas such as Tartus where the Russians have established a military base and, according to some observers, the army will be free to target the opposition in its other strongholds, such as Aleppo.
The army’s success can be attributed to its two-phased plan. For 46 days, it battled for control over the surrounding countryside before attacking the town. The combined forces of the army and Hizbollah took a fortnight to overrun Qusair, where hardline Salafi groups from neighbouring Lebanon had reinforced the opposition.
The turnaround was likely to influence Wednesday’s meeting of officials from Russia and the U.S. in Geneva for arranging an international conference to resolve the crisis