Syrian Government forces are storming the rebel-held town of Qusair and are on the brink of capturing it, according to Syrian State TV. Hostility has gone on around the town for months. The town is near the Lebanese border.
Both sides in the conflict describe heavy fighting around the town, where rebels have been under siege for weeks.
State television stated Syrian government forces had “tightened the noose on the terrorists, attacking on different fronts and destroying positions of their leaders in the south of the town.”
A network of activists on the ground also reported that Qusair had come under intense gunfire.
“A rain of shells fell on the city, at the same time as artillery fire and mortar fire from dawn. Homes were destroyed and burnt down,” the Syrian Revolution General Commission stated.
At least 16 people in Qusair had been killed by government airstrikes and shelling on Sunday, rebels claim.
According to various reports, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had made repossessing the town of Qusair and the surrounding district of Homs province a crucial objective in his fight. Fierce battle has raged in the vicinity for months.
Opposition groups claim the Syrian troops are backed by militants from the Lebanese Hezbollah movement and are fighting alongside the government troops. According to reports, hundreds of Lebanese Sunni militants have joined the fight.
BBC correspondents say Qusair has strategic value for both sides. It would give the government easy access over routes between the capital Damascus and the coast, and the Russian the naval maintenance facility at the Syrian deep-water port of Tartus. Russia is a key ally of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.
For the rebels, control of the town allows them to freely travel back and forth from Lebanon.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has vowed to continue the “fight against terrorism”. In an interview with an Argentine newspaper after the US and Russia announced plans for a peace conference, Mr. Assad said leaders should focus on stemming the flow of money and weapons to “terrorists.
The Syrian opposition, on the other hand, condemned the assault on the town which it denounced as “barbaric and destructive bombing. The opposition stated that this assault would undermine the US-Russian attempts to organize a peace conference and render it “meaningless.”
It accused the Assad regime of working with Hezbollah to “invade the town and wipe it and its residents off the map.”
“We say to the countries that are working for a political solution in Syria that allowing this invasion to go ahead in silence… will render any conference and any peace effort meaningless,” the group said in a statement.
The US state department has expressed concern about reports that Syrian forces had dropped leaflets on the town, warning that it would come under attack if opposition forces failed to surrender.
By Perviz Walji