US condemns Hezbollah-backed assault on Syrian town

DAMASCUS- The United States on Wednesday condemned an assault by Syrian troops on the town of Qusayr, claiming the regime had relied on Hezbollah to win the battle and caused tremendous suffering.
Syrian troops ousted rebels from the strategic town near the Lebanese border early Wednesday after a devastating 17-day assault led by Hezbollah fighters from across the border.

US condemns Hezbollah-backed assault on Syrian town
The government breakthrough came a day after France said the international community had to respond to test results from both French and British laboratories confirming Syria's use of the banned nerve agent sarin.
On Wednesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry said he had asked France to share its data.
In the meantime, a White House statement said: "The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the Assad regime's assault on Qusayr, which has killed untold numbers of civilians and is causing tremendous humanitarian suffering.
"It is clear that the regime could not contest the opposition's control of Qusayr on its own, and is depending upon Hezbollah and Iran to do its work for it in Qusayr."
White House spokesman Jay Carney renewed a call for Hezbollah and Iran to withdraw their fighters from Syria.
The rebels conceded they had lost Qusayr after controlling it for a year, but opposition interim leader George Sabra declared they would fight on "until the whole country is liberated".
The army said the "heroic victory" in the offensive, launched on May 19, served as a warning that it would "crush" the rebels and bring "security and stability to every inch of our land".
The battle for Qusayr, a conduit for fighters and weapons just 10 kilometres (six miles) from Lebanon and linking Damascus to the Mediterranean coast, left the town in ruins.
Its capture opens the way for forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to move on the central city of Homs, much of which the rebels still control.
State television showed tanks rolling through deserted streets strewn with dust and bricks from shattered buildings, as well as cases of rockets which fleeing rebels had apparently abandoned in a hideout.
Soldiers looked on, their Kalashnikov assault rifles lowered, as bulldozers cleared away debris in the main square, where Syria's flag flew atop a badly damaged clock tower.
The rebels admitted "this is a round that we have lost", but added they would fight on against "the thousands of Lebanese mercenaries" -- an apparent reference to Hezbollah.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the army and fighters from the powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah had taken Qusayr after an "intense bombardment" Tuesday night.
At least 11 government troops had been killed and 25 wounded in the final hours of fighting for the town, it added.
Hours after Qusayr fell, at least five rockets launched from across Lebanon's border with Syria hit the eastern Lebanese city of Baalbek, a Hezbollah stronghold.
Two landed in the city's Roman ruins and the other three hit the city centre, a security source told AFP. Two people were injured in the attack.
British technicians have confirmed the findings of French laboratories that sarin gas has been used in the Syrian conflict.
French President Francois Hollande told reporters in Paris: "We have provided the elements of proof that now obligate the international community to act."
On Tuesday, France said it had firm evidence that sarin had been used by the Syrian regime in at least one case.
Britain said it also had evidence of sarin use, but had passed it a week ago on to the UN for independent verification.
The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria has said there are "reasonable grounds" to believe both sides had used chemical weapons.
Kerry, on the sidelines of an Organization of American States meeting in Antigua on Wednesday, said he had spoken to French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius about their findings.
"I asked him... whether he could send us the information that shows us the chain of custody of that evidence, so we know precisely where it came from," he said.
Washington has always said that confirmation of battlefield use of such weapons would be a "game-changer" for Western policy on the conflict.
Russian, UN and US envoys meeting in Geneva failed to set a date for face-to-face talks between the Syrian regime and rebel representatives.
"It will not be possible to hold this conference in June," UN-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi told reporters, adding that he hoped for a July date.
Russia and the US have struggled to overcome rebel objections to a proposed invitation to the government side without a prior commitment that Assad step down.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said Iran's participation, opposed by many Western and Arab governments but championed by Moscow, was also an obstacle.
"It's a matter of principle because the whole composition of the conference should be balanced," he said.
At a meeting in Cairo, Arab foreign ministers issued a statement backing the Geneva peace initiative.

Thursday, June 6th 2013

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