Assad forces overrun Qusair

1 / 2
2 / 2
Updated 13 June 2013
0

Assad forces overrun Qusair

DAMASCUS: Syria’s army has overrun the strategic town of Qusair, state media said on Wednesday, after a blistering offensive spearheaded by thousands of fighters from Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement.
Such a major battlefield success for President Bashar Assad’s forces, if confirmed, would come as officials from Russia, the US and the UN gathered in Geneva to work on a peace conference amid fresh allegations that the Damascus regime has used chemical weapons.
“The Syrian army totally controls the Qusair region in Homs province after killing a large number of terrorists and capturing others,” state television report said, using the regime’s terminology for the rebels.
Official news agency Sana said the army had “reestablished total security in the town of Qusair,” while Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television, which has a correspondent on the ground, said the rebels had fled the region.
Assad forces and Hezbollah fighters launched an offensive to retake the Qusair region on the Lebanese border, on May 19.
Rebels fighting to retain control of the town, only some 10 kilometers (six miles) from the frontier, were later joined by hundreds of reinforcements from Lebanon, most close to the Muslim Brotherhood.
That lead to pitched battles in which civilians, many of them wounded, became trapped.
Doctors had appealed for the Red Cross to be allowed in to treat the wounded, but Syrian officials said this would only be permitted once the rebels had been defeated.
Civilians who had managed to flee Qusair described it as “a ghost town, heavily damaged and filled with the sound of bombs,” the UN refugee agency UNHCR said on Tuesday.
Those who had escaped were mainly women and children, because men risked being killed at checkpoints, said spokeswoman Melissa Fleming.
Control of Qusair is vital for the rebels as it is their principal transit point for weapons and fighters from Lebanon.
It is also strategic for the regime because it is located on the road linking Damascus with the coast, its rear base.
On the diplomatic front, officials meeting in Geneva hope to hammer out terms to get Assad’s camp and the rebels to negotiate directly for the first time.
The meeting comes a day after France said it had proof that Assad’s regime had used the deadly nerve agent sarin gas in Syria’s civil war.
Earlier, a UN report said there were “reasonable grounds” to believe that both sides in Syria had used chemical weapons.
However, Washington said it needed more evidence before concluding that sarin had been used.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told France 2 television: “We have no doubt that the gas is being used. The conclusion of the laboratory is clear: there is sarin gas.”
Experts had analyzed samples brought back from Syria, he said. They had sent their results to United Nations experts investigating the issue.
Earlier, Fabius had said in a statement: “France is now certain that sarin gas has been used in Syria several times and in a localized fashion.”
It did not say who had used the gas, but in a televised interview later, Fabius said that in at least one case, there was “no doubt that it was the regime and its accomplices.”
“A line has been indisputably breached... We must react, but at the same time we must not block an eventual peace conference,” he added.
Washington and Moscow are trying to get the regime and opposition together to negotiate a way out of the war, which has cost more than 94,000 lives in 26 months of fighting.
But a tentative date for the conference, initially planned for early June, has slipped back into July amid wrangling over the exact guest list and agenda.
The White House reacted cautiously to the latest allegations of chemical warfare: they wanted to know more before concluding such weapons had been used.
“We need to expand the evidence we have... before we make any decision,” said spokesman Jay Carney. President Barack Obama has said that the use of the deadly nerve agent would be a “game-changer” for Washington.
In Geneva, the Commission of Inquiry on Syria said on Tuesday that “there are reasonable grounds to believe that chemical agents have been used as weapons.”
It was the first time it had made such an allegation.
Most of the incidents concerned their use by government forces, it said in its report to the UN Human Rights Council.
“The conflict in Syria has reached new levels of brutality,” it added.
Government forces and their militia had committed “murder, torture, rape... and other inhumane acts” against civilians.
Rebel groups had also committed war crimes including murder, torture, hostage-taking and pillage, but on a lesser scale, it said.
It called on Syria to let UN investigators in to check for the possible use of chemical weapons, something the regime has so far refused.


Turkey says it is facing ‘new refugee wave’ after 30,000 Afghans arrive

Updated 9 min 42 sec ago
0

Turkey says it is facing ‘new refugee wave’ after 30,000 Afghans arrive

ANKARA: Nearly 30,000 Afghans have arrived in Turkey in the last three months, the Turkish government said Wednesday, after Amnesty International criticized the authorities “ruthless” decision to send more than 7,000 back to Afghanistan.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said 29,899 Afghans had crossed into Turkey since January compared to 45,259 people in the whole of 2017, state news agency Anadolu reported.
“In recent months, we are facing a new refugee wave, especially from Afghanistan,” Soylu said, adding that 1,328 people smugglers had been caught by April.
Turkish authorities have sent back 7,100 migrants to Afghanistan since early April, rights group Amnesty said on Tuesday, as it denounced the “ruthless deportation drive.”
“Thousands more are in detention, being treated more like criminals than people fleeing conflict and persecution,” Anna Shea, Amnesty researcher on refugee and migrants rights, said in a statement.
Migrants from Afghanistan and other countries affected by conflict and poverty often use Turkey as a transit country in the hope of reaching Europe.
According to Amnesty, there are 145,000 Afghans in Turkey.
The country is also home to more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees, as well as more than 300,000 Iraqi refugees, who have fled conflicts in their respective countries.
75,284 migrants have so far reached Turkey in 2018 compared with 172,745 last year, Soylu said in a speech in the southern city of Adana.
In March 2016, Turkey signed an agreement with the European Union to stop the flow of refugees to Europe after the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.
Over one million migrants and refugees landed on Europe’s shores in 2015, fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.