Syria rebels brace for new assault on Qusayr

DAMASCUS- Syrian rebels were bracing Sunday for a fresh assault in Qusayr by the army and its Hezbollah allies, after fierce fighting the previous day in the north of the town, a watchdog said.
Fears of another attack renewed concerns about the fate of the civilians trapped there, who include an estimated 1,500 wounded according to the United Nations.

Syria rebels brace for new assault on Qusayr
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on both sides to allow civilians to leave, and the organisation's rights chief and relief coordinator called for a ceasefire so they could do so.
Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights watchdog, told AFP on Saturday that "there are ongoing clashes in northern Qusayr, and the opposition fighters are fighting with everything they've got.
"Regime forces are reinforcing the sites that they have north of the city, including Dabaa airport and Jawadiya," he added.
The group said at least 15 tanks were massed north of Qusayr, a key prize for both the regime and the rebels as it links Damascus to the coast, and is near the Lebanese border, providing a key rebel conduit for weapons and fighters.
The Syrian opposition said on Friday that rebel reinforcements had now reached the area.
But there were growing fears for the thousands of civilians trapped in the battle for the town, which has raged for nearly two weeks.
Abdel Rahman said around 1,000 wounded people were trapped inside Qusayr.
But a joint statement by UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos and UN human rights commissioner Navi Pillay said: "We understand there may also be as many as 1,500 wounded people in urgent need of immediate evacuation for emergency medical treatment, and that the general situation in Al-Qusayr is desperate."
They were "extremely alarmed" by reports that civilian neighbourhoods were under fire, they added.
"We urge the parties to agree to an immediate ceasefire to allow humanitarian agencies to evacuate the wounded and provide life-saving treatment and supplies."
In New York, UN chief Ban Ki-moon urged "all sides to do their utmost to avoid civilian casualties," spokesman Martin Nesirky said in a statement.
Ban also called on all sides to help trapped civilians escape the town.
The opposition Syrian National Coalition saluted rebels in Qusayr.
"The people will continue their struggle to liberate their land, whatever it takes, and will force Hezbollah to withdraw its forces from all of Syria," it said.
The powerful Lebanese Shiite group, a staunch ally of President Bashar al-Assad's regime, has sent thousands of fighters to help put down the uprising that began more than two years ago with peaceful protests.
Some members of Lebanon's Sunni Muslim community have also crossed the border to fight alongside the Sunni-led rebels, encouraged by local clerics.
Late on Friday, influential Muslim cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi urged Sunnis to follow suit and join the uprising.
"Every Muslim trained to fight and capable of doing that (must) make himself available" to support the Syrian rebels, he said at a rally.
"Iran is pushing forward arms and men (to back the Syrian regime), so why do we stand idle?" added Qaradawi, a controversial figure who has millions of supporters, mostly from the Muslim Brotherhood.
Despite an official policy of neutrality on the conflict, Lebanon has found itself increasingly embroiled in its neighbour's civil war.
On Saturday morning, at least six rockets fired from Syria struck the Bekaa region, causing no injuries.
And Lebanon's National News Agency reported that unidentified gunmen opened fire overnight at a Shiite shrine in Baalbek, a Hezbollah stronghold also in the Bekaa.
The continued fighting in Syria has raised concerns about the prospects for a peace conference expected to convene in Geneva this month to seek a political solution.
The Coalition reiterated on Saturday that "the immediate halt of military operations by regime forces, Hezbollah and Iran are the primary conditions for participation in the conference".
And Ban warned that, as preparations for the conference intensify, all parties to the conflict "will be held accountable for any acts of atrocity carried out against the civilian population of Qusayr".
In other developments, the Observatory said an Islamic court in the northern city of Aleppo had executed the commander of the Mohammed's Army Brigade and an aide on charges of murder, theft and bribing residents.
The watchdog also reported the execution of a man accused of helping government forces in Damascus province.
In the capital itself, it said Barzeh district came under heavy shelling as regime forces battled rebels.
The Observatory said at least 69 people were killed nationwide on Saturday, mostly in Homs and Damascus provinces.

Sunday, June 2nd 2013

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