VIDEO - Syria's army said on Wednesday that the capture of the town of Qusair from rebel fighters sends a clear message to Israel.
"The victory that was achieved at the hands of our brave soldiers sends a clear message to all those who are involved in the aggression against Syria, on top being the Zionist enemy and its agents in the region and tools on the ground," the statement said.
"Our armed forces will remain ready to face any aggression against our dear homeland," it continued.
Earlier, after weeks of fierce battles, Syrian state television reported that army forces loyal to President Bashar Assad have regained control over Qusair. The rebels trying to overthrow Assas admitted they had withdrawn from the strategic town on the border with Lebanon.
Syrian army troops in Qusair (Photo: Reuters)
The Lebanese Al Mayadeen television channel showed soldiers sticking Syrian flags with photographs of Assad on piles of rubble in the streets.
"Our heroic armed forces have returned security and stability to all of the town of Qusair," a statement carried by Syrian state television said.
The state TV said the army "restored security and peace" after successfully dismantling "terrorist networks" operating in the town over the last few days.
The Qusair region is crucial in that it connects Damascus with Syria’s Mediterranean coast, the homeland of the country’s minority Alawite population. Assad must keep the route between Hezbollah strongholds in Lebanon to the coast open. Opposition sources have claimed that the coastal area may serve as a "refuge Alawite state" in case Assad is overthrown in Damascus and Syria will dissolve into separate ethnic and religious sects.
The army statement said the military cleared Qusair and surrounding villages in the country's west of "terrorists," the term the regime uses for rebels fighting to topple Assad's government.
Hezbollah supporters hand out candy in Beirut
It said a "large number (of rebels) have been killed, others surrendered and the rest escaped" following a decisive push into the town late Tuesday.
The army called on Qusair's residents to return to their homes and to their work within a number of days.
Meanwhile, Lebanese news websites published photos showing Hezbollah flags waved in a southern suburb of Beirut – a stronghold of the Shiite organization – alongside signs reading "Qusair has fallen."
Sign reads 'Qusair has fallen'
The same websites said Hezbollah members were seen handing out candy to celebrate the Syrian army's victory in Qusair. Hezbollah fighters took part in the capture of Qusair alongside the Syrian army. The rebels claim the Hezbollah fighters commanded over the operation.
Syria is suspected of having one of the world's largest chemical weapons arsenals, including mustard and nerve gas, including sarin. In recent weeks, the regime and those trying to topple Assad have traded accusations of chemical weapons' use but offered no solid proof.
In the West, the lack of certainty about such allegations is linked to a high stakes political debate over whether the US should get more involved in the Syrian conflict, including by arming rebel fighters. More than 70,000 people have been killed and several million displaced by the Syrian conflict since it erupted more than two years ago.
France said Tuesday it has confirmed that the nerve gas sarin was used "multiple times and in a localized way" in Syria, including at least once by the regime. It was the most specific claim by any Western power about chemical weapons attacks in the 27-month-old conflict.
Britain later said that tests it conducted on samples taken from Syria also were positive for sarin.
Images broadcast Wednesday in Syria by media embedded with the Syrian army in Qusair showed a deserted town, with heavily damaged buildings. Military bulldozers were removing rubble and clearing roads as armored vehicles whizzed by.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Qusair came under intense overnight shelling, forcing the rebel fighters, short of ammunition, to withdraw. The Observatory said it fears for the fate of over 1,000 wounded.
Earlier, doctors in Qusair had said wounded civilians and fighters in need of critical medical attention have been trapped in the town, and pleaded for safe passage to transport them.
AP contributed to the report
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