AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
Published — Thursday 30 May 2013
Last update 31 May 2013 7:39 pm
DAMASCUS: Syrian elite troops rushed to bolster a Hezbollah-led offensive against fighters in the strategic town of Qusayr yesterday as the UN Human Rights Council debated a resolution condemning the assault.
Russia warned a European Union decision to lift its arms embargo on militants fighting to oust its ally, Bashar Assad, harmed its joint efforts with the United States to halt the conflict.
Hopes are building for a US-Russian initiative for a peace conference to be held in Geneva next month, but serious obstacles could still scupper the talks — not least divisions within Syria’s opposition.
In Geneva, the UN’s rights body debated the draft resolution that calls for a probe into the Qusayr assault by Assad’s forces and its allies, in an implicit reference to Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.
UN rights chief Navi Pillay told the council that “the increasing number of foreign fighters crossing Syria’s borders... is further fueling the violence.
“The situation is beginning to show worrying signs of destabilizing the region as a whole,” she warned.
The United States rejected a statement by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that the resolution was “unwholesome” and undermined peace efforts.
“We don’t see this as... undermining in any way” but rather an effort to put rights abuses on record and work toward a solution, said US ambassador to the council Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe.
On the ground, elite Syrian Republican Guards and Hezbollah fighters rushed to Qusayr after government fighter jets pounded fighter areas, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“The preparations indicate that they are gearing for a major offensive” on fighter-held areas in the town’s north and west, the Observatory’s Rami Abdel Rahman said, adding that “despite the intense bombardment, the fighters are resisting fiercely.”
Sunni militiamen from Lebanon had joined the battle on the side of the fighters, and “the fighting is becoming more and more sectarian in character,” Abdel Rahman told AFP.
Syria’s regime is dominated by the minority Alawite community, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, while the majority of the population are Sunnis.
Control of Qusayr is essential for the fighters as it is their principal transit point for weapons and fighters from Lebanon.
The town, which is home to 25,000 people, is also strategic for the regime because it is on the road linking Damascus with the Mediterranean coast, the Alawite heartland.
“If Qusayr falls into the hands of the regime, it will be a hard blow for the fighters because routes used to bring in their arms from Lebanon will be closed,” said Abdel Rahman.
“If Qusayr was not strategic the fighters would not be fighting to the death and the regime and Hezbollah would not have brought in their heavyweights,” he added.
Iran-backed Hezbollah sent almost 1,700 fighters to Qusayr more than a week ago to support the regime’s assault on the fighter stronghold.