Middle East

Opposition: 15 executed in Halfaya

A Syrian man walks in the rubble of the town of Qusair.

BEIRUT: Fifteen Syrians were executed by pro-regime militia in a town in Hama province Thursday after government troops overran the area, the opposition National Coalition said. The attack came as Bashar Assad’s forces persevered in their offensive to push rebels from the strategically important town of Qusair, near the Lebanese border.

Halfaya, 80 km north of Qusair, has been battered by government shelling for two weeks, the coalition reported. After the town was overrun pro-regime militia looted homes, burning at least 40 percent of them to the ground, the group said, citing Halfaya residents who escaped the area.

“The calls of these citizens have fallen upon deaf ears, and the Syrian Coalition must now declare Halfaya a disaster zone. Currently, its citizens lack basic life necessities and are in desperate need of relief assistance,” the group said on its Facebook page.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that a family of five, including three children, were among the dead in Halfaya.

Further west in Qusair, fighting continued for a fifth day Thursday, with the Britain-based Observatory saying 46 Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon have been killed since Sunday.

Overall, at least 104 Hezbollah fighters have been killed in the Syrian civil war, said the Observatory, which relies on a network of sources in Syria.

However, a source close to the Shiite group told AFP Thursday that 75 Hezbollah fighters have been killed since they first became involved in the country’s war.

“There have been 57 killed and 18 others who have died of their wounds since the start of its [Hezbollah’s] participation in the war in Syria,” the source told AFP.

In the past, Hezbollah tried to play down its involvement in the civil war, but its high-profile role in Qusair has made that impossible.

Hezbollah has held funerals for fighters who officials close to the group say died at Qusair.

The movement stopped hiding its dead when its leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah on April 30 paid homage to militants killed across the border.

“Syria has true friends in the region who will not allow Syria to fall into the hands of the United States, Israel and takfiri groups,” he said in an interview with the movement’s television channel, Al-Manar.

Waddah Sharara, an expert on the organization, said Hezbollah has some 20,000 fighters, of whom 5,000 to 7,000 have combat experience, and between 800 and 1,200 of them have been fighting at Qusair.

Qusair is considered important to regime because it links the capital Damascus to Assad’s Alawite strongholds along the coast.

Elsewhere in Syria, rebel fighters captured an army base late Wednesday, a rare victory after a series of battlefield setbacks, the Observatory said.

The group said at least 40 pro-regime troops and 14 rebels were killed in the battle for the base, near the northwestern town of Nairab.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 24, 2013, on page 8.




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