Syrian troops and their Hezbollah allies yesterday tightened the noose on the strategic town of al-Qusayr, as the rebels said hundreds of fighters had broken through army lines to join the battle.
Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said he was “very confident” of victory in Syria’s conflict and threatened Israel with retaliation for any attack, in an interview aired late on Thursday.
In Istanbul, the deeply divided opposition announced agreement on expanding its membership to include more representatives of fighters and activists on the ground following accusations it was out of touch.
However, despite extending its talks for five days longer than scheduled, the National Coalition put off until later this month the election of a new leader and the formation of an interim rebel government.
Al-Assad, whose forces are battling alongside fighters of Lebanon’s Shiite movement Hezbollah to recapture al-Qusayr, said his regime would defeat the revolt which has raged in Syria since March 2011.
“There is a world war being waged against Syria and the policy of [anti-Israeli] resistance ... [but] we are very confident of victory,” he said in the interview with Hezbollah’s al-Manar television.
Syrian state television said troops and Hezbollah fighters had captured the Arjun district in the north of al-Qusayr on Thursday, leaving rebels holed up in the town little chance to escape.
The town controls supply routes vital to both sides and access between Damascus and the Mediterranean.
The Syrian opposition said yesterday that hundreds of rebel reinforcements, most close to the Muslim Brotherhood, have reached the town to try to repel the army’s assault.
“Around 1,000 fighters from across Syria” have penetrated the rebel stronghold near the Lebanese border, the National Coalition’s interim leader George Sabra told reporters in Istanbul.
“Hundreds” of rebels have broken through army lines near the village of Shamsinn, northeast of al-Qusayr, after losing 11 fighters, said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The Coalition has appealed for the rescue of 1,000 civilians wounded in al-Qusayr, which al-Assad’s forces have been trying to seize back in an all-out offensive since May 19.
Al-Assad threatened Israel with renewed fighting on the Golan Heights where a UN-patrolled armistice line has separated the two armies since Israel captured much of the strategic plateau in the 1967 Middle East war.
“There is clear popular pressure to open a new front of resistance in the Golan,” he said, echoing a call from Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah.
“There are several factors, including repeated Israeli aggression,” he added, referring to reported Israeli air strikes on Syria.
There was no immediate comment on al-Assad’s remarks from Israel, which has said it does not want to provoke a military “escalation” with Syria, but will not allow it to transfer strategic arms to groups like Hezbollah.
Meanwhile, the Observatory reported that Syrian troops had killed three Westerners, including a US woman and a British man, both Muslims, near the border with Turkey on Wednesday.