Syrian army allegedly seizes air base near Qusayr

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Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad seized an air base in a village near the town of Qusayr on Wednesday, as U.N.’s top rights body voted to condemn the Syrian regime’s use of foreign fighters in the border town.

Assad’s forces seizure of the air base is a major blow for rebels in their battle with government forces backed by Hezbollah fighters, state media said. However, activists told Al Arabiya that reports regime forces have taken control of the air base were unfounded.

Assad’s troops and Hezbollah fighters already surround Qusayr from three sides. Taking control of Dabaa village, to the north, would put the strategic town under siege from four sides and cut a main reinforcement line for the rebels.

“Our troops are now in full control of Dabaa air base,” Syrian state television said, after five hours of fierce fighting in and around it.

Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV, which has a crew with the government forces, showed tanks being deployed inside the air base and soldiers walking around empty hangars, some making victory signs.

“We are standing in the airport. It is now safe and secured,” a Syrian officer who took part in the assault told Al-Manar. He said some rebels escaped and were being chased by government troops. Some were detained and many killed.

Meanwhile, 36 of the U.N. Human Rights Council’s 47 member states voted in favor of the resolution that implicitly refers to the involvement of fighters from Lebanon's militant group Hezbollah in the fierce battle for the strategic town.

Eight countries abstained, two refrained from voting and only Venezuela cast its vote against the resolution.

France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Wednesday some 3,000 to 4,000 fighters from Hezbollah were currently battling alongside regime troops in Syria.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department called on the Hezbollah militia to withdraw its fighters from Syria immediately.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said it was “unacceptable” and “dangerous” that Hezbollah had sent fighters into Syria. “We demand that Hezbollah withdraw its fighters from Syria immediately,” she said at a regular daily news briefing.

Seizing the town of Qusayr would secure territory that connects the capital Damascus to Assad’s stronghold on the Mediterranean coast, home to his minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam that has largely supported him.

It also allow Assad to sever links between rebel-held areas in the north and south of Syria.

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