Syrian forces capture final rebel stronghold in Qusair region
Lebanese police say Syrian jets strike retreating rebels within Lebanon; Hezbollah aided Assad loyalists in takeover of rebel-held town.
Syrian government forces backed by Hezbollah guerrillas captured on Saturday the village of Buwayda, the final rebel stronghold in the area surrounding the town of Qusair, which was seized earlier this week.
Security sources and activists said dozens of fighters who had escaped Qusair were captured in the assault, which secured government forces full control over land close to the Lebanese border that was used by rebels to bring in arms and supplies.
Syrian state television aired footage from the empty streets of Buwayda, 13-km (eight miles) northeast of Qusair, showing a destroyed building, which it said had been used by the rebels, with rubble and debris littering the roads.
Forces loyal to President Bashar Assad captured Qusair on Wednesday after more than two weeks of fierce fighting and heavy shelling that destroyed hundreds of buildings and sent civilians fleeing to outlying areas.
Rebel groups from across Syria sent in hundreds of men to try to stave off the assault by the Syrian army and well-trained Hezbollah guerrillas, but they were rapidly overwhelmed, with activists complaining of a lack of arms and poor coordination.
"We can now declare Qusair and the surrounding area to be a fully liberated area. We will go after the terrorists wherever they are," an unnamed, senior Syrian army officer told state television from the rubble-filled streets of Buwayda.
Lebanese police said on Saturday that Syrian fighter jets hit areas in eastern Lebanon for the second time in less than a week, while hunting for opposition fighters fleeing Qusair.
Jets fired at least six rockets in Wadi Hmeid near the Lebanese border area of Arsaal, they added. There were no casualties.
The Lebanese militant organization Hezbollah has openly backed the regime of Assad in its deadly crackdown on the opposition, raising fears about dragging Lebanon into Syria's 26-month conflict.
Fighting flares across Syria
The fall of the Qusair represented a major victory for Assad, who is battling a two-year civil war that has left at least 80,000 dead.
In recent days, fighting has flared elsewhere around the country, including close to the capital Damascus and in the northern Aleppo province, which is expected to be the focus of renewed attack by Assad's forces following the collapse of the Qusair front.
Government troops have made a major push in recent weeks to reclaim rebel-held areas in Homs province, the linchpin linking the capital Damascus with Alawite strongholds on the Mediterranean coast.
On Saturday, a car bomb exploded in a Homs neighborhood that is populated largely by members of the Alwaite sect, to which Assad belongs.
Eight people were killed, including three women and a teenager, according to a state-owned TV station.
The rebels are in control of the center of Homs city, including its old quarter, and are besieged by regime forces in the outlying areas of the city.
The state-owned Al-Ikhbariya TV said the booby-trapped car exploded in a populated area near a roundabout in Adawiya, a mostly Alawite district. The station's reporter on the scene said 10 people were wounded by the explosion, which also heavily damaged houses in the area. The reporter said the car was carrying about 100 kilograms of explosives.
The station had earlier said the blast was caused by a suicide bomb.
Many towns north of Homs city are rebel-controlled but government and Hezbollah forces are clearing rebels from villages and towns to the south.
Abu Bilal al-Homsi, an activist in the old quarter of the city of Homs who has links with several rebel groups, said through Skype that rebels sustained heavy losses late Friday as they attempted to flee the village with their wounded and civilians. Al-Homsi asked to be identified by his alias for security concerns.