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Make or break battle

syrian rebels ramp up numbers to hold on to key town

DAMASCUS — Dozens of fighters have arrived to reinforce rebel units battling to hold off a Syrian government and Hezbollah assault on the key town of Qusair.

A source in Qusair told the BBC the number was far fewer than the 1,000 suggested by the interim head of the main opposition alliance, George Sabra.

But the arrival does contradict state media reports the town is surrounded.

President Bashar al-Assad earlier told Lebanese TV that he was “confident of victory” in the two-year-old conflict.

His troops, backed by fighters from Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia Islamist movement, have been tightening the noose on Qusair, which controls supply routes crucial to both sides.

Syrian state television said troops and Hezbollah fighters had captured the Arjun district of Qusair on Thursday.

The BBC source in Qusair did not give precise figures for the rebel reinforcements for security reasons.

But he said it was significant that they had managed to get in at all, and that the news would encourage others to come to the aid of the rebels.

He also said the humanitarian situation in Qusair was worsening, with urgent need to get some 800 wounded people out for treatment.

An attempt to evacuate wounded today had failed, he added, as the convoy had come under attack, with nine people killed.

The source said that 80 per cent of Qusair was still under rebel control, although this cannot be independently verified.

He told the BBC: “There are about 30,000 people in Qusair. The ones that are inside are stuck here, and most of them live underground… Sometimes there are two or three families living in one room.

“There is no water at all, because the Assad regime controls the water supply, and there has been no electricity for four months.”

Sabra, acting leader of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, insisted that “around 1,000 fighters from across Syria” had penetrated the town.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based activist group, said “hundreds” of rebels had broken through army lines north-east of Qusair. (BBC)

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