Syrian army claims full control of western Homs province
More than 90 insurgents killed and Crusader fort of Crac des Chevaliers recaptured, says officer
A view shows the Crac des Chevaliers fortress and smoke rising from Husen village homes in Homs after soldiers loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad took control of it from rebel fighters yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Khaled al-Hariri
A Syrian army commander announced yesterday that the army is in complete control of western Homs province and that 93 insurgents had been killed as they fled toward Lebanon following the conquest of the 900 year-old Crusader fort of Crac des Chevaliers, a Unesco world heritage site. At least 300 were said to have been occupying the site.
The unidentified officer said the insurgents were from al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra and allied factions including Lebanese, Pakistanis and Palestinians, but did not state how many had been killed in the army operation to retake the massive fort, occupied since 2012 by anti-government elements.
It was reported earlier that 11 insurgents, including fundamentalist Jund al-Sham’s Lebanese commander Suleiman Dandashi, had died during the assault.
The hilltop fort’s recapture and the reimposition of army control over the town of Hosn below amounted to another psychological blow to insurgents who last week were driven from the strategic city of Yabroud on the Damascus-Homs highway.
The Syrian military appears to have stepped up its campaign to regain lost territory while the international community has been focused on events in Ukraine and the search for the missing Malaysian airliner. In co-ordination with an infantry advance on the ground in Syria, the air force has struck villages in Lebanon’s Wadi Khaled border region where thousands of Syrian refugees and hundreds of insurgents have taken refuge.
In further spillover, at least five have been killed in clashes between pro- and anti-Syrian communities in Lebanon’s northern port of Tripoli, raising the toll to 24, with 160 wounded, since the latest round of violence erupted eight days ago.This is the 20th round of fighting since the conflict began in 2011.
Separately, Syria has exported nearly half of its stocks of weapon chemicals for neutralisation and destruction, reported the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. The 11th and latest consignment of was loaded on to Nordic cargo vessels at the northern port city of Latakia.
Moscow has said that Syria’s chemical agents have been put beyond use and the entire supply should be out of the country by mid-April.