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AFP

Syrian army storms Al-Qusayr

The regime has made recapturing Al-Qusayr and the surrounding district of Homs province a key objective.

Al-Qusayr fighting. (AFP/Joseph Eid)

Syrian troops backed by Lebanon's Hezbollah have entered Al-Qusayr, a strategic rebel stronghold linking Damascus to the coast, a day after President Bashar al-Assad insisted he would not step aside.

 

The advance came Sunday as Assad's opponents warned his regime's "barbaric and destructive" assault on the town could torpedo US-Russian attempts to organize a conference on ending more than two years of bloodshed.

 

The Arab League called an emergency meeting for Thursday, ahead of the conference, as the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) demanded that it meet and "stop the massacre in Al-Qusayr.”

 

Loyalist forces launched the offensive with a heavy early-morning bombardment using artillery and warplanes.

 

"We struck from several fronts—south, east and northeast," one soldier told state television from the rebel bastion.

 

He said that "100 armed men were killed" in the operation during which troops had to defuse mines and bombs placed by rebels at the gates of the town.

 

A military source told AFP that government forces controlled the center of Al-Qusayr and that the Syrian flag was flying over the recaptured municipality building.

 

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights watchdog confirmed the bombardment and the subsequent ground operation.

 

Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP that Hezbollah militants from Lebanon were "playing a central role.”

 

"If the army manages to take control of Al-Qusayr, the whole province of Homs will fall," he said.

 

The Britain-based Observatory reported more air strikes later Sunday, saying at least 52 people had been killed during the day, including at least 21 rebels and three women.

 

The regime has made recapturing Al-Qusayr and the surrounding district of Homs province a key objective, and fighting has raged in the region for months.

 

A source close to Hezbollah told AFP in Beirut that four of the group's members had been killed overnight shortly before the assault on Al-Qusayr began.

 

The fighting has also spilled over into neighboring Lebanon. The National News Agency in Beirut said eight rockets fired from Syria hit Lebanon, without causing casualties or damage.

 

The Syrian National Council, a key component of the main opposition National Coalition, denounced the "barbaric and destructive bombing" of Al-Qusayr.

 

It accused the regime of working with Hezbollah to "invade the town and wipe it and its residents off the map", and called for "an urgent meeting of the Arab League to stop the massacre in Al-Qusayr.”

 

"We say to the countries that are working for a political solution in Syria that allowing this invasion to go ahead in silence... will render any conference and any peace effort meaningless."

 

UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan also called for "the repressive machine in Damascus" to be stopped.

 

France also expressed fears for civilian lives, warning that more violence would only undermine the peace process.

 

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Philippe Lalliot called Sunday for "all the players in a position to avoid a new massacre of the Syrian civilian population to mobilize without delay."

 

The United States and Russia are working to organize a peace conference next month to find a political solution to the conflict.

 

While Washington has backed the uprising against Assad, Moscow is one of his staunchest allies.

 

But the embattled Syrian leader said in a weekend interview with Argentine newspaper Clarin that he would not resign before the end of his mandate in 2014.

A pro-regime fighter outside Al-Qusayr. (AFP/Joseph Eid)

"The Syrian army controls [Al-]Qusayr's main square in the center of the city, and the surrounding buildings, including the municipality building."

  • Beiruti

    All of the calls issued by all of the powers in the world will not stop Iran and Hezbollah if those making the calls are not willing to go to ground, get their hands dirty and fight these guys in the streets, or at least send in unmanned smart air to air missiles against the Syrian Airforce. The fact that those who seek a negotiated end are not effectively pressing the military case against Assad means that they are hurting the cause of the FSA more than helping it. Assad has created a sectarian war. I would not doubt that he empowered the Sunni Al Nusrah Front, even armed them in order to stoke the narrative that this is a sectarian war rather than a war of the oppressed population against an oppressive autocrat. Assad will push the sectarian war into Turkey and Iraq and Lebanon if he is subjected to further military threat and if he is left to his own devices. He is willing to blow up not just Syria, but the entire region as the ransom price for his being forced from power in Syria. The West and those who oppose Assad are left with a choice that he has given to them. The choice is simple: (1) Leave Assad in place and spare the region a sectarian war, or (2) arm the FSA with just enough to survive, partition Syria and leave Assad in charge of the Western Provinces of Syria, or (3) Take an Executive Action against Assad and try to put Syria back together in competition with the political forces who back the Islamist fighters. Assad is betting that the West, those who are now calling for peace before they have won the war will take Option Number 1.

    May 20, 2013