Government forces move through Qusayr, captured by the Syrian military last Wednesday
Entries in Bashar al-Assad (267)
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Lebanon's Parliament has voted to extend its mandate and delay elections scheduled for June after failing to adopt a new electoral law.
The motion for a 17-month extension was passed unanimously by the 98 members of the 128-seat house who attended on Friday. It said the delay was due to "the security situation in several Lebanese regions that gives rise to political escalation and division which often take on confessional forms".
Fuad Siniora, the opposition head in parliament, said: "We were forced to vote on this bad project to avoid a vacuum and after unrest in several regions and the serious negative development" of Hezbollah's involvement in the Syria conflict.
Amid the months-long delay over a new electoral law, Prime Minister Tamman Salam, who was named on 6 April, has been unable to form a new Government because of divisions over Syria.
Ramped-up foreign intervention is likely to tip the military balance against the Assad regime. But it faces a political question: is the aim merely to pressure and contain the President or to topple him?
And that question in turn leads to others: is there an effective political group, given the tensions and fragementing within the opposition, that can replace Assad? Will the "extremists", rather than the "moderates", win? Will the fall of the regime send destabilising ripples across the Middle East?
Assad is betting that all these questions can be turned into doubts to block further intervention for the opposition. Last night's declarations were his chips to support that bet.
Al-Manar: Mr. President, we are in the heart of the People’s Palace, two and a half years into the Syrian crisis. At the time, the bet was that the president and his regime would be overthrown within weeks. How have you managed to foil the plots of your opponents and enemies? What is the secret behind this steadfastness?
President Assad: There are a number of factors are involved. One is the Syrian factor, which thwarted their intentions; the other factor is related to those who masterminded these scenarios and ended up defeating themselves because they do not know Syria or understand in detail the situation. They started with the calls of revolution, but a real revolution requires tangible elements; you cannot create a revolution simply by paying money.
Insurgent commanders in the besieged town of Qusayr, near the Lebanese border, have appealed for help and warned of dire consequences if it does not arrive:
If all rebel fronts do not move to stop this crime being led by Hezbollah and Assad's traitorous army of dogs...we will soon be saying that there was once a city called Qusayr.
Malek Ammar, an opposition activist in Qusayr, said, "The town is surrounded and there's no way to bring in medical aid."
Ammar said about 100 of 700 wounded needed oxygen: "What we need [insurgent units] to do is come to the outskirts of the city and attack the checkpoints so we can get routes in and out of the city."
Qusayr has been under sustained shelling and attacks for almost two weeks. On Wednesday, the Syrian military captured the nearby airbase of Dabba, cutting off the town on all sides and bolstering their positions.
Elsewhere, insurgents blockaded in the eastern Ghouta, east of Damascus, appealed for help on Facebook, claiming Assad's forces were "preparing to commit more massacres".The fighters said they held the opposition Syrian National Coalition, whose members have spent a week arguing in Istanbul over the orgnaisation of the leadership, responsible for their plight.
George Sabra, the acting head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, has confirmed that the group will not attend any international "peace" conference.
However, whereas the Coalition's formal declaration on Wednesday emphasised its demand that President Assad step down as part of any transitional government, Sabra's statement said the condition was the international community's intervention to end the Syrian military's siege of Qusayr, near the Lebanese border.
Then Sabra declared, "The National Coalition will not take part in any international conference or any such efforts so long as the militias of Iran and Hezbollah continue their invasion of Syria."
Insurgents fighting in Qusayr
has rejected Russian demands that, for an international conference, there should be no pre-condition of the departure of President Assad.
"We have been very clear that any transitional period must start with the departure of Assad and the heads of the security services," Khalid Saleh, the spokesman of the SNC, said Tuesday.
Saleh also said the Free Syrian Army must receive "major shipments of weapons" and "must be able to control more areas of Syria before we start thinking about the conference".
Insurgents have retaken the Damascus suburb of Otaiba, which was been a conduit for arms from Jordan to opposition forces near the capital before it was seized by regime forces last month.
Commanders said insurgent brigades, including the General Command and Islamist factions, had united to re-claim Otaiba, two miles northeast of Damascus International Airport.
The opposition forces adopted a white banner with the Muslim declaration of faith: "There is no god but God; Mohammad is God's prophet."
Rebel fighters may be on the move once again in Damascus, near the international airport that is used to ferry supplies in and out of the country.
Meanwhile, to the north of Damascus the Assad regime has been conducting an intense artillery and airstrike campaign against Yabroud. The hilltop suburb has been heavily occupied by rebel forces for many months, but it now appears that the area is being softened up, possibly or a direct regime assault on the town.
US President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan have given a joint press conference in a rainy White House Rose Garden. One would think with both world leaders on the same stage that topics like terrorism on the Turkish/Syria border, the ongoing Syrian crisis, and the sectarian strife in Iraq would be major priorities. They were not. These topics were not raised until more than halfway through Obama's opening comments, and there was no news beyond echoing very general statements that mirror the policies that have been more-fully expressed at other times.
Syria was clearly not on the agenda, though another journalist makes an important note that this may soon change:
Note that PM Erdogan will have 2 hour private dinner w/pres Obama tonight, it's when, Erdogan says, will talk Syria in depth #rosegarden— ilhan tanir (@WashingtonPoint) May 16, 2013
More notable might be the questions from the press. Due to rain, the press conference may have been shortened, but the 1st question asked to Obama was about a domestic scandal (the IRS) and the 1st question to Erdogan was about Turkey's policies towards Israel. In other words, while having both leaders on record at the same time, some really interesting questions could have been asked about how these two leaders will pursue their most pressing common problem. Instead, they were squandered on offering the leaders an opportunity to echo talking points that they're already given.