Strategic city of Qusayr falls into hands of Assad forces

DAMASCUS – Syrian troops backed by Lebanon’s Hezbollah on Sunday entered Qusayr, a strategic rebel stronghold linking Damascus to the coast, a day after President Bashar al-Assad insisted he would not quit. The advance came as Assad’s opponents warned his regime’s “barbaric and destructive” assault on Qusayr could torpedo US-Russian attempts to organise a conference on ending two years of bloodshed in the country.

The Arab League called an emergency meeting for Thursday, ahead of the conference, as the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) demanded it meet and “stop the massacre in Qusayr”.

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Forces loyal to Assad launched Sunday’s offensive by heavily bombarding Qusayr with artillery and warplanes early in the morning. Hours later, a military source said that government forces entered the centre of the town, with troops raising the Syrian flag over the recaptured municipality building.

“The Syrian army controls Qusayr’s main square in the centre of the city, and the surrounding buildings, including the municipality building,” said the source.

Syria ‘regains control’ of strategic Qusayr

Syrian opposition acknowledges the loss of Qusayr

(CNN) – There was no immediate response from the rebel Free Syrian Army. But some members of the Syrian opposition acknowledged the loss of Qusayr to government forces.

“Yes, dear brethren, this is a battle that we lost but the war is not over yet,” said the Homs Revolution News, which is associated with the Local Coordination Committees of Syria — an opposition activist network.

The rebels’ loss of Qusayr is a significant blow to those trying to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Qusayr, located near the Syrian border with Lebanon, had been a rebel stronghold through much of Syria’s civil war.

Rebel leader vows retribution if Qusayr falls to Assad

“If Qusair falls at the hands of the regime, there is no way to stop the acts of reprisal, and that retribution will (reach) another level,” rebel spokesman Col. Abdul Hamid Zakaria told Al-Arabiya last month. “This will lead to Shiite and Alawite towns to be completely wiped out of the map by some.”

More below the fold …

Syrian stalemate fuelled by opposition’s bitter infighting

(The National) – The Syrian political opposition, in its current form, is a hopeless case. Members of the opposition have been holding intensive talks to expand the National Coalition for nearly a week, with little progress.

The meetings in Istanbul are meant to discuss the inclusion of more members, mostly moderates, in the coalition to make it a more representative and balanced political body. As it stands now, the political body is controlled by one group that has a tenacious monopoly over the decision-making process.

The coalition’s general assembly announced that eight new members have been added, after they won 42 votes from existing members. But the coalition has deep structural issues that render the inclusion of new members almost meaningless.

Existing members of the coalition insist that the inclusion of new members must be based on balloting by existing members only. But this would change little in a monopoly that was made possible by interference from regional countries to begin with, rather than based on consensus among Syrian opposition. The existing members were not chosen by the people to decide whether certain opposition figures should be members or not.

The second issue is the “blocking third”, or the veto power held by a third of the members. This idea was advanced by the coalition’s secretary general, Mustafa Al Sabbagh, and was clearly meant to maintain the monopoly of the current core group within the coalition.

Mr Al Sabbagh was directly appointed by Qatar and its allies in the Muslim Brotherhood when the coalition was formed in Doha in November. Shortly after his appointment, he unsuccessfully tried to bypass the coalition’s leadership through ad hoc power grabs.

Saudi Arabia takes over from Qatar to solve Syria’s crisis

(Blog HassanHassan) – There seem to be some important developments with regard to the Syrian opposition and regional patronage over the past few days. Saudi Arabia appears to have taken over from Qatar in dealing with the Syrian opposition, as great powers begin to agree on general principles for a solution in Syria.

The opposition met with Saudi authorities for two days and discussed ways to improve communications between them. Riyadh, contrary to popular belief, has not been working closely with the Syrian opposition, especially the political bodies, as the kingdom believed they were dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood.

The members also agreed to expand the coalition’s representativeness to include minorities, particularly the Kurdish forces. Riyadh, meanwhile, promised to step up political and material support for the opposition.

Saudi Arabia supports extremist Sunni groups in Syria