Syrian regime claims 'full control' of Qusair region
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The Syrian regime has regained total control of the Qusair region, Syrian state TV announced Wednesday. Regime forces backed by Hezbollah have been battling opposition rebels for the strategic city of Qusair near the Lebanese border for weeks.
The Syrian army has regained control of the strategic town of Qusair on the border with Lebanon, Syrian state television said Wednesday, a statement confirmed by a UK-based rights group.
“Our heroic armed forces have returned security and stability to all of the town of Qusair,” a televised statement said.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed to FRANCE 24 that the Syrian army had recaptured the centre of Qusair, where hundreds of wounded civilians have been trapped by weeks of fighting.
A peace conference to negotiate an end to the bloodshed in Syria will not be held in June because the Syrian opposition still cannot agree on a list of participants, Russia's deputy foreign minister, Gennady Gatilov, said on Tuesday.
Within a few hours Syrian rebels had also acknowledged that they withdrew overnight following an onslaught by the Syrian army – allied with Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon – that left hundreds of people dead.
“In the face of this huge arsenal, [a lack of] supplies and the blatant intervention of Hezbollah ... tens of fighters stayed behind and ensured the withdrawal of their comrades along with the civilians,” the rebels said in a statement sent to Reuters.
Government and rebel forces have been waging an intensified battle for control of the town, which lies on a critical cross-border supply route between Lebanon and Syria.
The border region has strategic value to both sides in the conflict: it links Damascus with the Mediterranean coastal enclave that is the heartland of Assad’s Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, while the porous frontier allows anti-Assad rebels to smuggle weapons and supplies from Lebanon.
'No doubt' sarin was used
The announcement of this strategic advance on the part of President Bashar al-Assad's forces comes a day after France said it had "no doubt" that the nerve gas sarin was used “multiple times and in a localised way” in Syria, including at least once by the regime.
It was the most specific claim by any Western power about chemical weapons attacks in the 27-month-old conflict.
Britain later said that tests it conducted on samples taken from Syria were also positive for sarin.
Syria is suspected of having one of the world’s largest chemical weapons arsenals, including mustard and nerve gases such as sarin. In recent weeks, the regime and those trying to topple Assad have accused one another of using the banned weapons for propaganda purposes, but have offered no solid proof.
The lack of certainty about such allegations has led to a high-stakes political debate over whether Europe and the United States should get more involved in the Syrian conflict, including possibly by arming those fighting Assad.
“All options are on the table,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in an interview with France 2 television on Tuesday, following the sarin gas announcement. “That means either we decide not to react or we decide to react, including by armed actions targeting the place where the gas is stored.”
US President Barack Obama has been reluctant to heed calls for military intervention in Syria, and specifically suggestions to send weapons to the opposition rebels – in part because of the presence of Islamic militants among them. But Obama has also warned that the use of chemical weapons or their transfer to a terrorist group would cross a “red line”, hinting at more robust intervention in such a case.
However, Obama has also insisted on a high level of proof for such claims, including a “chain of custody” that can only come from on-site investigations, which are currently blocked by the regime.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)