Syrian regime forces yesterday sought to follow up on their victory in a key town near the Lebanon border by sending reinforcements to battle rebels in Homs and the northern province of Aleppo.
The move comes a day after a brief rebel seizure of the Quneitra crossing on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights prompted Austria to say it was withdrawing its peacekeepers from the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF).
UNDOF peacekeepers from the Philippines and India were wounded by mortar shrapnel in fighting for the strategic crossing, according to UN diplomats.
Manila said it was also considering pulling out its 341-strong contingent.
Last month the Philippines foreign affairs department recommended its peacekeepers be removed after Syrian rebels briefly abducted four Filipino soldiers.
The same rebel group seized 21 Filipino peacekeepers in March. All were released unharmed.
Syrian government forces yesterday were trying to mop up final pockets of rebel resistance north of al-Qusayr, the border town which it retook on Wednesday bolstered by Lebanese Hezbollah fighters.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces were also sending reinforcements to Aleppo Province, where large swathes of territory have been in rebel hands for months.
“Clashes broke out at dawn between the army and rebels on the outskirts of Dabaa village” north of al-Qusayr, the Britain-based groups aid, adding Hezbollah forces were involved.
A second rebel bastion north of al-Qusayr, Eastern Bweida where rebels and many wounded civilians fled after the fall of al-Qusayr, was still being bombarded by the regime.
“The army is seeking to impose its complete control of Qusayr and the surrounding area,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said. “It is leaving no way out for the rebels, and also not for the wounded or for civilians. It wants to annihilate the rebels or take them prisoner.”
Meanwhile, the Lebanese army yesterday warned of a “plot” to embroil the country in the 26-month conflict, as deadly clashes between supporters and opponents of the al-Assad regime multiply on its territory.
The UN Security Council was scheduled to hold talks on the UNDOF crisis later yesterday.