Qusayr under blitz

Updated 26 May 2013

Qusayr under blitz

BEIRUT: Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad shelled a strategic western town yesterday in their heaviest barrage of a week-long battle to dislodge rebels from there, activists said.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 22 people including 18 rebels were killed in the fighting, and dozens wounded.
Pro-Assad troops, including fighters from the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, have been trying to push rebels out of Qusayr. The Syrian state media has said troops steadily gained ground, including yesterday. Local activists have denied regime gains and said rebel fighters are defending positions.
Qusayr is important to Assad because it sits on a land corridor linking two of his strongholds, the capital of Damascus and towns on the Mediterranean coast. For the rebels, holding Qusayr means protecting a supply line to Lebanon, 10 km away.
Yesterday’s barrage of rockets, mortar rounds and tank shells began after daybreak, said Qusayr activist Hadi Abdullah and the pro-opposition Observatory. Both said it was the most intense shelling since the regime launched its offensive there a week ago. They also reported heavy gunfire.
The intense shelling could be heard in Lebanon’s border areas and in the Syrian city of Homs, some 25 km away.
In Turkey, the acting president of Syria’s main opposition group harshly criticized Hezbollah for its role in Qusayr. “Some Lebanese are being sent to Syria as invaders in order to return back home in coffins draped with shame,” said George Sabra of the Syrian National Coalition.
“Oh Syrians, come and rescue Qusayr, Maadamiyeh, Daraya and eastern Ghouta so that Syria remains, as it is today, a graveyard for invaders,” Sabra said, referring also to suburbs of the capital Damascus where Syrian troops have been on the offensive over the past weeks.
In an indication that the rebel’s weeklong stand is also becoming a symbol outside Syria, Mohammed Al-Zawahiri, who is the brother of Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri and is himself a prominent jihadi figure in Egypt, issued a statement alongside 19 other ultraconservative and former militants to all Muslims to “help our people in Qusayr.”
“It is the duty of each Muslim to repel this aggression and stop the injustice, first by jihad with arms,” the statement carried by a militant website said.
Yesterday’s push comes ahead of a speech by Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, his first since the offensive began.
Meanwhile, Syria’s fractured political opposition was meeting for a third day in Istanbul, Turkey yesterday to elect new leaders, try to widen its base and forge a unified position ahead of possible peace talks with the regime.


Dozens of Iraqi protestors wounded as anti-government unrest resumes

Updated 35 min 43 sec ago

Dozens of Iraqi protestors wounded as anti-government unrest resumes

  • In Baghdad’s Tayaran Square overnight, protesters threw petrol bombs and stones at police
  • Baghdad police said its forces had successfully reopened all the roads that were closed by “violent gatherings.”

BAGHDAD: Dozens of Iraqi protestors were wounded in Baghdad and other cities on Monday in clashes with security forces who were trying to clear blocked roads, security and medical sources said, as anti-government unrest resumed after a lull of several weeks.

In Baghdad’s Tayaran Square overnight, protestors threw petrol bombs and stones at police who responded with tear gas and stun grenades, Reuters witnesses said.

Elsewhere in southern Iraq, hundreds of protestors burned tires and blocked main roads in several cities, including Nassiriya, Kerbala and Amara. They say Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has not fulfilled promises including naming a new government acceptable to Iraqis.

“They (security forces) should stop shooting and aiming, who are they and who we are? Both sides are Iraqis. So why are you killing your brothers?” said one woman protestor in Baghdad who declined to give her name.

Baghdad police said its forces had successfully reopened all the roads that were closed by “violent gatherings.”

Mass protests have gripped Iraq since Oct. 1, with mostly young protesters demanding an overhaul of a political system they see as profoundly corrupt and as keeping most Iraqis in poverty. More than 450 people have been killed.

Numbers had dwindled but protests resumed last week as demonstrators sought to keep up momentum after attention turned to the threat of a US-Iran conflict following Washington’s killing of Tehran’s top general in an air strike inside Iraq.

The killing of Qassem Soleimani, to which Tehran responded with a ballistic missile attack on two Iraqi military bases, has highlighted the influence of some foreign powers in Iraq, especially Iran and the United States.