By Radwan Mortada
Al-Akhbar: Most of armed groups’ commanders who took part in the battle of Qusayr survived. They fled to the Syrian villages of Hassia, Qara, and Yabrud, while the rest crossed over into the Lebanese town of Ersal. Al-Akhbar spoke with the fighters about their experiences in battle.
In this Lebanese border town, the survivors spend their time recounting the details of the 16-day battle as they try to evacuate the rest of their wounded from Syria. The injured fighters who have arrived speak constantly of the “exploits of the mujahideen and their heroism.”
Their mobile phones contain a wealth of video footage from the fighting in Qusayr, along with pictures of the dead, wounded, and spoils of war. The survivors like to speak at length about “hundreds of Hezbollah casualties” and the “two suicide attacks carried out by al-Nusra Front against a military convoy.”
The surviving fighters claimed that dozens of Iranian and Iraqi militants had taken part in the battle. One played a video clip that ostensibly showed the bodies of Iraqi fighters.
The Syrian opposition fighters who came to Ersal are on high alert following reports that the Syrian army might pursue them inside Lebanese territory. According to some in their ranks, they are preparing to take revenge and retake Qusayr, citing events in the Homs district of Baba Amr as evidence that they can seize ground after it has been retaken by the regime.
But despite their attempts to give each other solace and strength, they are overcome with regret and sorrow. One fighter became tearful as he remembered one of his brothers who had perished in the battle.
The opposition fighters said the Free Syrian Army (FSA) factions had betrayed them, and repeated the usual claim about an international-Israeli conspiracy against them. To make their point, they cited the reluctance of most Western powers to arm them with “game-changing” weapons.
For the fighters, their motivations can range anywhere from jihad to revenge for their comrades and relatives who were killed “at the hands of the Shia.”
There are no accurate figures on the number of militants who fled the battles in Qusayr to Ersal. One Syrian activist puts the number of wounded militants at 90, while another puts it at 300. At any rate, it was hard to find the more renowned leaders of the armed opposition, including the Farouq Battalion commander Muwafaq Abu al-Sous and the infamous Abu Sakkar, who was shown eating the lung of a dead Syrian soldier in a viral video.
When asked about their fates, surviving fighters said that the commanders had been wounded and are currently present in Qara. Others said they were hiding out in Qusayr’s northern countryside.
We asked about the reasons for the sudden collapse of the armed opposition’s fortifications and trenches on the eve of the Qusayr fall. We asked about the rumored negotiations to hand over Qusayr, which one fighter vehemently denied, saying that Hezbollah fighters used “advanced weapons that turned everything upside down.”
The Syrian militant claimed that the Lebanese party used surface-to-surface rockets that turned some Qusayr homes into dust. He pointed out that “after these missiles were used, many left their posts and fled without our knowledge.” The man admitted they were defeated, but he blamed it on advanced weaponry and the betrayal of some of his comrades.
Concerning the tunnels, one of the militants purported that Hezbollah had originally built the underground structures to transport weapons. But another said that the tunnels had been built by Palestinian engineers and that the opposition fighters expanded them and used them in their battle.
Others say they left some of their wounded behind, and ran for their lives that night. But one commander denied this and said his group took a total of 1,070 wounded out of Qusayr before retreating. The fate of the wounded in Qusayr is the primary concern of the Syrian opposition fighters today. They held that there are around 300 injured individuals still trapped in Qara, as well as others in Yabrud.
One armed group leader told Al-Akhbar, “We came under heavy shelling during our attempt to evacuate a number of the wounded from Yabrud.” He said that six members of his group were killed in the currently besieged Hassia during an attempt to transfer the wounded.
The majority of those wounded suffered injuries to their feet, in addition to others who lost eyes during the fighting. Only a handful of them have critical injuries.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.