World Bulletin / News Desk
Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad seized an air base near the strategic town of Qusair on Wednesday and took more ground to the east of Damascus, state media said, dealing fresh setbacks to rebel fighters.
Assad's troops have been battling alongside Hezbollah fighters from neighbouring Lebanon for the last 10 days to drive rebels from Qusair.
Taking the air base and neighbouring Dabaa village puts Qusair under siege from all sides and cuts a main reinforcement line for rebel weapons and fighters.
"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.
Shortly afterwards, rebels inside Qusair reported the town coming under bombardment from government forces. "They fired three rockets at us - each one can bring down a whole street," one fighter told Reuters by Skype.
The battle for Qusair, which straddles important supply lines for both rebel and government forces, has seen heavy fighting in which dozens of Hezbollah fighters have been killed.
If Assad's forces took the town they would secure territory connecting the capital Damascus to Assad's stronghold on the Mediterranean coast, home to his minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam that has largely supported him.
It would also allow Assad to sever links between rebel-held areas in the north and south of Syria and strengthen his hand ahead of peace talks which are planned to take place in Geneva, possibly in July.
Hezbollah's Manar TV, which has a crew with government forces, showed tanks deployed inside Dabaa air base and soldiers walking around empty hangars, some making victory signs.
"We are standing in the airport. It is now safe and secure," said a Syrian officer who took part in the assault, adding that some rebels had escaped and were being chased by government troops. Some were detained and many killed, he said.
As the army and Hezbollah tightened their grip around Qusair, state media said Assad's forces had also reached the town of Adra to the east of Damascus, completing a sweep through rebel-held territory to seal off more rebel supply lines.
Syrian television said the army would now push west, squeezing rebels between the advancing forces and the government-held areas in the centre of the city.
The army gains consolidate several weeks of counter-offensives by Assad's forces, focused on securing main highways and cutting off rebel supplies.
Despite regaining ground around Damascus and in the centre of the country, Assad has lost control of much of northern Syria and the eastern oil-producing districts.Güncelleme Tarihi: 30 Mayıs 2013, 19:47