Syria and Hezbollah bolster forces in Qusayr

Updated 31 May 2013
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Syria and Hezbollah bolster forces in Qusayr

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.


UAE to rebuild Iraq’s iconic Mosul mosque destroyed in Daesh fight

Updated 14 min 55 sec ago
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UAE to rebuild Iraq’s iconic Mosul mosque destroyed in Daesh fight

  • UAE donates over $50mn to reconstruct Mosul’s Great Mosque of Al-Nuri
  • The five-year project aims to give hope to Iraqi youths

BAGHDAD: The United Arab Emirates and Iraq on Monday launched a joint effort to reconstruct Mosul’s Great Mosque of Al-Nuri and its iconic leaning minaret, ravaged last year during battles to retake the city from militants.
During the ceremony at Baghdad’s National Museum, UAE Culture Minister Noura Al-Kaabi said her country would put forward $50.4 million (41.2 million euros) for the task.
“The five-year project is not just about rebuilding the mosque, the minaret and the infrastructure, but also about giving hope to young Iraqis,” she said.
“The millenia-old civilization must be preserved.”
The deal was signed by Kaabi and her Iraqi counterpart, Faryad Rawanduzi, in the presence of UNESCO’s Iraq representative Louise Haxthausen.
“This is an ambitious, highly symbolic project for the resurrection of Mosul and Iraq,” said Haxthausen.
“The work has already begun, the site is now protected... we must first clear the site, remove the rubble (and) document, before we can begin reconstructing the mosque and its minaret.”
The famed 12th century mosque and its leaning minaret — dubbed “the hunchback,” or Al-Habda, by locals — was destroyed in June 2017.
The Iraqi army accused Daesh militants of destroying it with explosives as Iraqi forces steadily retook ground in the embattled city.
It was in this mosque in 2014 that Daesh’s self-proclaimed “caliph,” Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, made his only public appearance as leader. His whereabouts are still unknown.
Kaabi, the Emirati minister, called on the international community “to unite to protect universal heritage sites, especially those in our Arab region” in theaters of conflict.
The Al-Nuri mosque is named after Nureddine Al-Zinki, who once ruled over Aleppo and Mosul and ordered the construction of the mosque in 1172.
Al-Habda, which maintained the same structure for nine centuries, was one of the only remnants of the original construction.
Decorated with geometric brick designs, the minaret was long a symbol of the city.
It was printed on 10,000 Iraqi dinar banknotes before it became a symbol of Daesh rule, when the militants planted their black flag at the top of its 45-meter spire.
“This is a historic partnership, the largest and unprecedented cooperation to rebuild cultural heritage in Iraq ever,” UNESCO chief Audrey Azoulay said in a statement.
The first year of reconstruction will focus on documenting and clearing the site, UNESCO said.
The following four years will focus on the restoration and “faithful reconstruction” of the mosque, its minaret as well as the city’s historic gardens and open spaces.