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Rebels reinforce for key Syria fight

Source BBC News@ tienganhvui.com


Syrian government troops in Arjun in Qusair, 30 May 2013State media said government troops took Qusair's Arjun district on Thursday



Dozens of fighters have arrived to reinforce rebel units battling to hold off a Syrian government and Hezbollah assault on the key town of Qusair.


A source in Qusair told the BBC the number was far fewer than the 1,000 suggested by the interim head of the main opposition alliance, George Sabra.


But the arrival does contradict state media reports the town is surrounded.


President Bashar al-Assad earlier told Lebanese TV that he was "confident of victory" in the two-year-old conflict.


His troops, backed by fighters from Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia Islamist movement, have been tightening the noose on Qusair, which controls supply routes crucial to both sides.


Syrian state television said troops and Hezbollah fighters had captured the Arjun district of Qusair on Thursday.


The BBC source in Qusair did not give precise figures for the rebel reinforcements for security reasons.


But he said it was significant that they had managed to get in at all, and that the news would encourage others to come to the aid of the rebels.


He also said the humanitarian situation in Qusair was worsening, with urgent need to get some 800 wounded people out for treatment.


Mr Sabra, acting leader of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, insisted that "around 1,000 fighters from across Syria" had penetrated the town.


The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based activist group, said "hundreds" of rebels had broken through army lines north-east of Qusair.


Russian supplies

Earlier, the National Coalition ended marathon talks in Istanbul with a pledge to broaden its membership.


It will include more representatives of the rebel Free Syrian Army and other activists inside Syria, but correspondents say it failed to achieve many stated goals.


The coalition announced that its leadership council would be expanded, following widespread criticism that it was out of touch with events on the ground in Syria.



Analysis





After 40 years of tight dictatorship in Syria, it is not surprising that the opposition is finding it hard to produce a coherent, representative leadership to face off against a tough regime team in the proposed Geneva conference.


What was meant to be a three-day meeting of the opposition coalition in Istanbul turned into eight days of in-fighting that has failed to achieve its stated goals of electing a new leadership, approving an interim government and taking a clear position on the Geneva proposal.


After initially saying it would go to Geneva with conditions, it now says it will not go as long as Hezbollah is fighting at Qusair. That buys it time for the great deal of work, and doubtless wrangling, that will be needed to construct a plausible delegation for the talks, and more meetings will be held early next month.


By contrast, the regime side is unified and coherent, and has decades of negotiating experience to draw on. The opposition risks a severe defeat in the talks, unless it gets its act together very seriously.



It adds 14 members of a liberal bloc led by Michel Kilo, 14 members of activists' groups from inside Syria and 15 members linked to the FSA.


However, the coalition postponed until June the election of a new leader to replace Moaz al-Khatib, who said he would resign in March, and the formation of an interim rebel government headed by Ghassan Hitto.


Before the announcement, the US had called for a decision on a new leadership and an expanded membership to "move forward in planning the Geneva conference".


The US and Russia are pushing for a meeting to find a political solution to the conflict in the Swiss city next month, and their officials will meet next week to prepare the ground.


Mr Sabra insisted: "The Syrian Coalition will not participate in international conferences and will not support any efforts in light of Hezbollah and Iran's militia's invasion of Syria."


However, given the fractured nature of the opposition it is unclear whether this is the final word.


The BBC's Jim Muir in Beirut says a lot more needs to be done for the opposition to be in any kind of shape to attend any conference in a coherent manner.


He says that, by contrast, the Syrian government appears unified and confident.


President Assad, speaking on Thursday to Lebanon's al-Manar TV, which is owned by Hezbollah, said: "There is a world war being waged against Syria and the policy of [anti-Israeli] resistance but we are very confident of victory."


He warned Israel that it would respond in kind to any future air strikes.


"We have informed all the parties who have contacted us that we will respond to any Israeli aggression next time."


Mr Assad said Syria would "in principle" attend the peace conference in Geneva if there were not unacceptable preconditions.




President Bashar al-Assad said that Syria would respond to any future attacks on its territory by Israel



Mr Assad also said a Russian contract to supply it with new S-300 air defence missile systems was being implemented - but did not confirm any deliveries.


He said: "All we have agreed on with Russia will be implemented and some of it has been implemented recently, and we and the Russians continue to implement these contracts."


The S-300 is a highly capable surface-to-air missile system that, as well as targeting aircraft, also has the capacity to engage ballistic missiles.


Two Russian newspapers on Friday quoted defence sources as saying that it was unclear if any of the missile system would be delivered this year.


Russia's MiG company said it was also discussing the supply of more MiG-29 M/M2 fighter planes to Syria. General director Sergei Korotkov said the number would be "more than 10".


Meanwhile, Syrian state TV showed the bodies and identity cards of two Westerners it said were killed by government troops while fighting for the rebels in the north-western province of Idlib.


The family of an American woman later reported her death, naming her as Nicole Mansfield, a 33-year-old Muslim convert from the town of Flint, Michigan.


The UK Foreign Office said on Friday that it was aware of reports about a British citizen and was seeking further information.


Map showing control of major roads in Syria (May 2013)





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