HOSN, Syria — The Syrian army ousted rebels from a massive Crusader fortress after several hours of fierce fighting, killing at least 93 of them as they fled to neighboring Lebanon this week, an army commander told reporters Friday.
Reporters were shown signs of a precipitous flight from Crac des Chevaliers by the opposition fighters, including food on a burning makeshift stove left behind untouched, as well as collapsed walls and staircases and other damage from the multiple rounds of fighting in the UNESCO world monument, first seized by rebels in 2012.
The Thursday fall of the imposing hilltop citadel is as much symbolic as strategic. It is the latest in a string of government victories near the frontier with Lebanon, used by rebels as a conduit for recruits and supplies.
The nearby village of Hosn was devastated in the fighting, with several houses leveled. Reporters moving through the village with the army escort saw several cars burning, with thick, black smoke billowing into the air. Most of the villagers had fled previous fighting, although about 50 people, mostly women and children, were seen leaving the village Friday.
It was not clear if all the damage to the castle and Hosn village was from Thursday’s battle that started at dawn, according to the commander.
He said his troops overran the castle in the early afternoon. He said they refused to grant about 300 rebels safe passage from the fortress and made the final push into it after seeing the rebels fleeing, the commander said.