Hundreds of Syrian rebels have poured into a besieged town near the border with Lebanon in preparation for a “great battle” against President Bashar Assad’s forces and their Lebanese Hezbollah militant allies, the Syrian opposition said Friday.
“In the next few hours there will be a great battle on the ground,” Abu Rami, the nom de guerre of a spokesman for the Syrian Revolution General Commission, said in a Skype interview from Syria’s western city of Homs.
The rebel reinforcements arrived in the town of Qusair from the northern city of Aleppo. Their arrival is significant as it undermines a claim by the Assad regime that the town is surrounded Syrian troops.
The rebels say they control 70 percent of Qusair, situated on a vital supply line near the border with Lebanon. There is no way to independently verify their claims.
The Syrian rebels’ top military commander said this week that as many as 40,000 Qusair residents risk being massacred.
Gen. Salim Idris, chief of staff of the Free Syrian Army’s Supreme Military Council, made the claim in a letter to the U.N. Security Council urging it to prevent a massacre in Qusair.
Rebels say some Qusair residents escaped into the countryside and that 30,000 are trapped in the town.
Rebel sources reported dire conditions inside Qusair, including a shortage of life-saving medical supplies.
Qusair is of strategic importance to the rebels and the Assad regime.
The Assad regime wants to control Qusair in order to secure a highway that links the capital, Damascus, to the Alawite heartland and cut the rebel supply lines from Lebanon.
In an interview with Hezbollah’s TV channel Al Manar aired on Thursday, Mr. Assad, himself an Alawite, denied that the battle for Qusair is intended to create an Alawite state in the event that the borders of Syria are redrawn.
“On the contrary, these battles are for the sake of preserving Syria’s unity, not the opposite,” Mr. Assad said.
The Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shia Islam, the version of the religion observed by Iran and Hezbollah, the militant group that is a prominent political force in Lebanon.