Hezbollah calls on Syrian refugees from Qusayr to return

Beirut (AFP) –


Hezbollah's chief called Friday on refugees from Qusayr in Syria to return home to this area, where the Lebanese Shiite movement first stepped in to support Damascus against rebels six years ago.

Syria's military retook Qusayr, a strategic town near Lebanon's border, in June 2013 after a blistering assault led by Hezbollah fighters.

"We have sorted our situation in Qusayr to allow for the full return of people from the town and the (surrounding) villages," Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech.

The move was made in coordination with Syrian authorities, he added, calling particularly on "residents of Qusayr villages currently in Lebanon" to take the necessary steps to return.

In April 2013, Nasrallah for the first time acknowledged that Hezbollah fighters were aiding Syrian troops to combat the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Qusayr had been used by rebels as a transit point for weapons and fighters from Lebanon, and was strategically vital for the regime because it is close to a major road linking Damascus to the coast.

The battle for Qusayr forced thousands to flee, including many Lebanese residents of the area, which maintains close ties to Lebanon's Bekaa Valley across the border.

Nasrallah announced in July that Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran and is considered a "terrorist" group by the United Sates, had reduced the number of its fighters in Syria.

Backed by Russia and Iran, the Damascus government has taken back large swathes of territory from rebels and jihadists since 2015, and now controls around 60 percent of the country.

The Syrian conflict has killed more than 370,000 people and driven millions from their homes since it started with the brutal repression of anti-government protests in 2011.