Syrian rebels were bracing yesterday for a fresh assault in al-Qusayr by the Syrian army and its Hezbollah allies, after fierce fighting the previous day in the north of the town, a watchdog said.
Fears of another attack renewed concerns about the fate of the civilians trapped there, who include an estimated 1,500 wounded, according to the UN.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on both sides to allow civilians to leave, and the organization’s rights chief and relief coordinator called for a ceasefire so they could do so.
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman told reporters on Saturday that “there are ongoing clashes in northern [al-]Qusayr, and the opposition fighters are fighting with everything they’ve got.”
Regime forces are reinforcing the sites that they have north of the city, including Dabaa airport and Jawadiya,” he added.
The group said at least 15 tanks were massed north of al-Qusayr, a key prize for both the regime and the rebels as it links Damascus to the coast, and is near the Lebanese border, providing a key rebel conduit for weapons and fighters.
The Syrian opposition said on Friday last week that rebel reinforcements had now reached the area.
However, there were growing fears for the thousands of civilians trapped in the battle for the town, which has raged for nearly two weeks.
Abdel Rahman said about 1,000 wounded people were trapped inside al-Qusayr.
However, a joint statement by UN Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said: “We understand there may also be as many as 1,500 wounded people in urgent need of immediate evacuation for emergency medical treatment, and that the general situation in al-Qusayr is desperate.”
They were “extremely alarmed” by reports that civilian neighborhoods were under fire, they added.
“We urge the parties to agree to an immediate ceasefire to allow humanitarian agencies to evacuate the wounded and provide life-saving treatment and supplies,” they said.
In New York, Ban urged “all sides to do their utmost to avoid civilian casualties,” UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said in a statement.
Ban also called on all sides to help trapped civilians escape the town.
The opposition Syrian National Coalition saluted rebels in al-Qusayr.
“The people will continue their struggle to liberate their land, whatever it takes, and will force Hezbollah to withdraw its forces from all of Syria,” it said.
The powerful Lebanese Shiite group, a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, has sent thousands of fighters to help put down the uprising that began more than two years ago with peaceful protests.
Several members of Lebanon’s Sunni Muslim community have also crossed the border to fight alongside the Sunni-led rebels, encouraged by local clerics.
Late on Friday, influential Muslim cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi urged Sunnis to follow suit and join the uprising.
“Every Muslim trained to fight and capable of doing that [must] make himself available” to support the Syrian rebels, he said at a rally.
“Iran is pushing forward arms and men [to back the Syrian regime], so why do we stand idle?” said Qaradawi, a controversial figure who has millions of supporters, mostly from the Muslim Brotherhood.
Meanwhile, a car bombing in Damascus yesterday killed at least nine members of the security forces, the Observatory said.