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Hezbollah fighters killed in Qusair as battles continue - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Supporters of Hezbollah and relatives of Hasan Faisal Sheker, an 18-year-old Hezbollah member, carry the coffin during his funeral in Nabi Sheet near Baalbeck May 20, 2013. Several Lebanese Hezbollah fighters and 20 Syrian soldiers and militiamen loyal to President Bashar Al-Assad have been killed in the fiercest fighting this year in the rebel stronghold of Qusair, Syrian activists said on Monday (REUTERS/Stringer)

Supporters of Hezbollah and relatives of Hasan Faisal Sheker, an 18-year-old Hezbollah member, carry the coffin during his funeral in Nabi Sheet near Baalbeck May 20, 2013. Several Lebanese Hezbollah fighters and 20 Syrian soldiers and militiamen loyal to President Bashar Al-Assad have been killed in the fiercest fighting this year in the rebel stronghold of Qusair, Syrian activists said on Monday (REUTERS/Stringer)

Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—The number of Lebanese Hezbollah fighters killed in the Syrian town of Qusair remains a source of dispute today, while the strategically-placed town continues to be the scene of fierce fighting between rebels and government forces.

Websites associated with Hezbollah announced the names of 16 killed yesterday, while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed the figure was 23 dead and 70 wounded.

Sources within the Syrian opposition told Asharq Al-Awsat that a group of Hezbollah forces were involved in “an ambush by the Syrian opposition fighters west of Qusair the day before yesterday which lead to the immediate death of 6 party members.” Ten others were killed later on in the course of the battles as the party deployed its elite rescue forces to evacuate its dead and wounded. The same sources claimed that more party members were killed yesterday during battles on the city’s outskirts.

Opposition sources in Qusair told Asharq Al-Awsat that several senior members of Hezbollah were among those killed. The most prominent of the alleged casualties was Hezbollah’s security chief in Baalbek, Mohammed Khalil Shahrour, known as “El-Hajj Sajjed.”.

Others allegedly included Fadi Al-Jazzar, a Palestinian resident of the Burj al-Barajneh camps in Lebanon, who was arrested by Israeli security in 1991 after crossing the border from Lebanon into Israeli territory. He was released during the prisoner exchange deal between Hezbollah and Israel in 2004 and returned to duty with the party.

Spokesmen for the Free Syrian Army (FSA) denied reports that government forces, backed by Hezbollah, had fought their way to the center of Qusair, and said that the FSA remained in control of the town.

Reports indicate that fighting has continued in Qusair for a second day, and with growing intensity. An opposition source told Asharq Al-Awsat: “At this moment [Monday afternoon] the region is experiencing violent clashes that involve the use of machine guns and anti-rocket armor amid heavy shelling on behalf of the regime’s army—approximately 20 shells per minute—as well as air strikes.”

The sources also said that the city has become “like a ghost town with barely a stone left,” adding that “the opposition forced the regime forces out of the centre of Qusair, transferring battles to the outskirts.”

Syrian activist Tarek Mouri told Reuters that “opposition and Hezbollah forces penetrated the center of the city but fighting has returned to the borders were they began.” He added that “Hezbollah missiles were launched from Syrian land west of the Orontes River along with Free Syrian Army artillery.”

Official Syrian media outlets said that government forces have taken control of a large part of Qusair. The state-run SANA News Agency said: “Syrian army forces have seized armed terrorist groups and destroyed the weapons and ammunitions in their possession.” It also quoted an official source claiming that army units continue to pursue terrorist in the northern and southern regions of the city.

In a related development, a Syrian military source announced that government troops seized an Israeli jeep used by rebels in Qusair. The source added that “government forces would lose radio contact upon entering particular areas in Qusair,” because the Israeli vehicle contained “mechanisms for jamming communication devices or eavesdropping interactions between military units.”

However, a spokesman for the Israeli Army, Avichay Adraee, dismissed the claims, stating that the vehicle had belonged to the former South Lebanese Army, a defunct Israeli proxy militia, and that it had been decommissioned over a decade ago.