Syrian activists say at least 23 Hezbollah militants have been killed in fighting for the town of Qusair, as Syrian forces press a weeks-long offensive to recapture the strategic area from rebels.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the deaths of the Lebanon-based militants Monday, saying more than 70 others were wounded.
Qusair is located along the Syrian-Lebanese border, and links Syria’s capital Damascus to the Mediterranean coast. There was no independent confirmation of who controlled the town Monday. Controlling it would solidify President Assad’s access to coastal regions largely inhabited by his minority Alawite sect. Qusair also has formed part of a cross-border smuggling route for rebels.
Syrian state media said the army had “restored security” to most of Qusair and was pursuing “terrorist groups” in the town. Syria uses the term “terrorists” to describe the rebels fighting a two-year war to oust President Bashar al-Assad.
The Reuters news agency quoted opposition activists saying rebel fighters had pushed back the government forces.
As Syrian refugees continue to stream into Jordan and Lebanon, the international aid group Oxfam warned that warmer summer weather will increase health-related risks due to a lack of shelter, water and basic sanitation.
Increased cases of public health-related diseases such as diarrhea and skin infections have already been recorded in host communities and temporary settlements, where an increasing number of refugees now live.
In Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley alone, there are now some 240 tented settlements, six times the number recorded in January.
As of May 2013, some 635,000 people are in need of assistance in Lebanon – both refugees and host communities – and Oxfam says it anticipates this number to increase to over 740,000 by November.
More than 80,000 people have been killed and several million displaced since the start of the rebellion against Assad in March 2011.