Syrian army warns civilians to leave Qusayr

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Syria’s army has dropped leaflets over Qusayr in central Homs province, warning civilians to leave ahead of an attack that will be launched if rebels holding the town do not surrender, a military source said on Friday.

“Leaflets were dropped over Qusayr asking civilians to leave the city, with a map of a safe route by which to evacuate, because the attack against the city is coming soon if the rebels do not surrender,” the source told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Troops backed by fighters from the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah have advanced throughout the area around Qusayr, which fell to the rebels more than a year ago.

Activists said Qusayr is surrounded by government forces on three sides, and that approximately 25,000 residents are believed to still be in the city.

The area has been a strategic boon to the rebels, who used it as a base from which to block the main road from Damascus to the coast, impeding military movement and supply chains.

It is also important because of its proximity to Lebanon.

The regime has made recapturing it a key objective. President Bashar al-Assad reportedly said last month that fighting in the area was the “main battle” his troops were waging.

Activists say regime forces there are backed by fighters from Hezbollah, as well as members of the National Defense Force, a pro-regime militia.

Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights watchdog said at least 72 people were killed throughout the country in violence on Thursday, including 33 rebels, 21 civilians and 18 soldiers.

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