Syrian government forces besiege opposition stronghold | News | DW | 19.05.2013
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Syrian government forces besiege opposition stronghold

The Syrian military has begun closing in on an opposition-held town, which lies on key roads to the coast and northern Lebanon. Meanwhile, the Arab League has called an emergency meeting to move peace talks forward.

AFP EXCLUSIVE Syrian troops celebrate as they take control of the village of Western Dumayna, some seven kilometers north of the rebel-held city of Qusayr, on May 13, 2013. Syrian troops captured three villages in the strategic Qusayr area of Homs province, allowing them to cut supply lines to rebels inside Qusayr town, a military officer told AFP. AFP PHOTO/JOSEPH EID (Photo credit should read JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images)

Syrien Regierungstruppen

An assault led by government troops caused widespread damage in the town of Qusair on Sunday, according to Syrian state television and Syrian officials.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's army were "attacking on different fronts and destroying positions of their leaders in the south of the town," state television reported.

At least 30 people died in the fighting, 16 of whom were rebel fighters, according to the Britain-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The news agency DPA reported that fighters from Lebanon's Shiite militia group, Hezbollah, provided additional support to al-Assad's army.

After hours of shelling, al-Assad's forces advanced on the town on Sunday, retaking government buildings, an official told the news agency Associated Press on the condition of anonymity. The army had left open "safe passage for fleeing civilians and the armed terrorists who want to surrender," the official said.

The Syrian military has been trying to wrest towns in the surrounding Homs province away from opposition fighters in recent weeks. Securing Qusair would restore the government's access to northern Lebanon and to the Mediterranean Sea.

Siege alarms observers

The Arab League called an emergency meeting for Thursday in response to an urgent plea from the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) to stop the "massacre" in Qusair.

"We say to the countries that are working for a political solution in Syria that allowing this invasion to go ahead in silence... will render any conference and any peace effort meaningless," the SNC said on Sunday.

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Assad sceptical about conference chances

The siege also renewed worries in Israel of regional security and, in particular, the movement of weapons between Syria and Hezbollah.

"We are following the developments and changes there closely and we are prepared for every scenario," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at his weekly Cabinet meeting.

Al-Assad dismissive of Western plans

Fighting on Sunday followed a week of deliberations between the US, Russia, Israel and other international entities eager to establish a peace plan for Syria, whose civil war recently entered its third year.

Evidence of the deployment of chemical weapons by both sides in the Syrian civil war sparked a peace conference proposal by the US and Russia earlier this month. Washington and Moscow have urged the opposition and President al-Assad's government to negotiate, with the assistance of international mediators.

kms/crh (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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