On May 23 I wondered Will Qusayr be Hezbollah’s Stalingrad?

It’s hard to know what really is going on, with pro-Assad forces claiming great progress while rebel supporters claim they are hanging on and receiving reinforcements.  There has been a mostly futile attempt to gain world attention and action on the horrific conditions of civilians in Qusayr.

The only point of clarity is that prior claims notwithstanding, Hezbollah has not yet taken back Qusayr despite committing thousands of troops to the task.  The Daily Star of Lebanon reports, Rebel resistance in Qusair defies expectations:

It was over three weeks ago that Syrian government officials told state news  agencies they would “cleanse” the town of Qusair, close to the Lebanon  border of rebel forces “within days.”

As of Monday night, Syrian government forces, backed by hundreds, if not  thousands, of Hezbollah  fighters were still locked in battle  with rebel forces opposing President Bashar Assad  in and around the disputed town,  having failed to make a decisive victory.

The staying power of the rebel forces, vastly outnumbered and outgunned in  the face of elite Syrian forces with superior weaponry and airpower has defied  predictions by military analysts who foresaw a swift defeat for opposition  forces.

Al-Jazeera has this video report:

Al-Arabiya reports, No safe way out as Syrian forces grind down besieged Qusayr:

As Syrian government forces try to grind down rebel resistance in the besieged town of Qusayr, trapped civilians have had to choose between sheltering from the bombs or risking a 100 km hike to safety.

“Qusayr itself is described as a ghost town, heavily damaged and filled with the sound of bombs. People are hiding in bunkers or, even worse, in holes that they’ve dug. One woman told us that she spent, with her children, one week inside a hole that was dug into the ground,” UNHCR chief spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told a U.N. briefing in Geneva….

With the fighting dragging into its third week, Syrian forces fired ground missiles and launched a series of air raids on the besieged town on Tuesday, activists said.

Earlier quick advances made by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the allied Hezbollah militia have slowed as they tried to seize the northern quarter of the town.

Fighters on both sides say that the advance has slowed to only a few meters in the past few days, but they offer conflicting reasons why.

Rebels say backup opposition forces that broke through the encirclement of Qusayr and sent in hundreds of fighters have given rebels a morale boost. They say they have been able to seize some tanks and ammunition and block a few attempts to storm opposition-held areas….

Sources close to Assad’s forces said the army and Hezbollah fighters had built platforms over the nearby Orontes river to speed up the movement of their troops.

They said that the slow advance was planned, and not a loss of momentum. Rebels have mined most buildings and streets in the areas Assad’s forces have been trying to storm.

From NOW Lebanon (a highly recommended source) comes this report, Hezbollah fighter details ops in Qusayr:

Fighting in Qusayr has entered in its third week; why has it been so hard for you to take over the border area?

Qusayr was initially divided in 16 military areas, today an area of five blocks still remains in the control of rebels from the Nusra Front who have taken civilians hostage. We are trying to avoid civilian casualties as much as possible, which is slowing down the process. Rebels who are arrested are immediately transferred to the Syrian intelligence so that they can be used in hostage exchange operations.

Rebels are using guerrilla techniques against you in Qusayr. How are you responding to them and what weapons are being used?

We have called upon our specialists to neutralize the tunnel networks built by rebels in certain sectors of Qusayr. These specialists helped Hamas build their tunnel networks in Gaza. Tunnels usually have a basic structure, it is easy for specialists to understand how they work, and they are helping us to destroy them by booby-trapping access and exit points. Rebels have also booby-trapped houses, so the only way to secure a certain perimeter is by blowing up walls to make holes. We are also relying on massive air raids in our military operations to wear down the rebels. Weapons used are mortars, PKK, Dushka, Russian 75, 106, as well as 155.

Interestingly, the Hezbollah fighter interviewed by NOW Lebanon admits that training took place in Iran:

Does the war waged by Hezbollah against the Syrian rebels bear any similarity with the war with Israel?

It’s actually very different from Lebanon, with the exception of the battles of Bint Jbeil (in the south), where the terrain and towns with houses built very close together are in many ways similar to Qusayr. Elite and special forces that are now deployed in Qusayr are using the training in street fighting they received in Iran, which was done in mock cities specifically built for this purpose.

It’s still an open question whether Qusayr will be Hezbollah’s Stalingrad. A failure to take the relatively-small city would be a big blow to Hezbollah.