June 2 — The battle for Qusair is shaping up to be a major turning point in the Syrian war. The two sides, the imperialist-backed “rebels” and the Syrian Arab Army troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, are locked in heavy combat for this strategic city near the Lebanese border.
For several weeks, Syria’s armed forces have fought into the center of the city. Volunteers from Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia have joined the offensive. The rebels have also long been supplied with troops and weapons through the lightly guarded border. Reports on June 1 claim that many of the surrounding villages and much of Qusair have now been cleared of rebel forces.
Strategically, Qusair’s capture would place much of central Syria back in the hands of the government. Recent military gains have also been reported in the south and northwest areas of the country against the various rebel groups.
Apparently frustrated by their recent battlefield losses and their setbacks in Qusair, the “Free Syrian Army” command has threatened to spread the war into Lebanon to “punish” Hezbollah. In late May, several rockets landed in an area of Beirut where Hezbollah has great support.
The Lebanese border town of Hermel, home to many Hezbollah supporters, was hit by rockets on May 27 and May 28, killing a 17-year-old woman and injuring several others. In the Lebanese city of Tripoli, fighting among groups supporting different sides of the Syria conflict has cost several lives.
Despite intense pressure from the United States and other colonial powers that they unite, the Syrian political opposition continues to be divided and ineffective. A weeklong conference in Istanbul of the opposition coalition was notable for its disunity and division. The New York Times characterized it as “entangled anew in petty disputes … and the inability to forge a strong, united bargaining front.” (New York Times, May 31)
A proposal for a Syrian peace conference in Geneva in June has been pushed by both the U.S. and Russia. However, it is unclear whether the Syrian opposition forces can agree to attend, although the Syrian government has announced that it will participate.
EU ends embargo on arms to ‘rebels’
The latest reports indicate that the military situation on the ground inside Syria may be moving faster than any peace negotiations. On May 27, the European Union ended the embargo on arms shipments to the Syrian rebels. This may only be a technical matter since it has been widely reported that the Central Intelligence Agency has been coordinating massive arms shipments by the reactionary Qatar and Saudi governments to Syria’s rebels through Jordan and Turkey.
At the same time that the Western imperialists are increasing their efforts to arm their proxies, they are loudly complaining about the aid Russia and Iran are providing to the Syrian government.
On May 31, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry blasted the Russians for plans to sell advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Syria. Since the rebels have no air force, the missiles could only concern the U.S. if it has plans to use its powerful air power directly against Syria, or if Israel does.
Josh Rogin reported, “The White House has asked the Pentagon to draw up plans for a no-fly zone inside Syria that would be enforced by the U.S. and other countries such as France and Great Britain,” according to two administration officials (thedailybeast.com, May 28). A “no-fly zone” campaign really meant massive bombing of all military and civilian infrastructure throughout Syria, which would cause thousands of deaths. The world saw what this means in Libya just two years ago.
Israel has also threatened Syria if the Russian missiles are delivered. However, it is Israel that has already bombed Syria three times this year, once in January and twice in early May. The Israeli and U.S. militaries act as if it is their right to bomb sovereign nations with impunity whenever they wish.
In a rare TV interview, President Assad warned that Syria would greet another air strike from Israel with retaliation. He also repeated his statement that he would allow Palestinian resistance fighters to open up a front on the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights.
Sen. John McCain, right-wing Republican and former presidential candidate, sneaked into northern Syria on May 27 to meet with and take photos with commanders from various anti-Assad factions. McCain has been loudly calling for greater U.S. military intervention in Syria, claiming that heavy weapons could be directed to “moderate” rebels as opposed to “extremists,” meaning those linked to al-Qaida.
But distinguishing “good rebels from bad” may not be that easy. Kevin Liptak of CNN wrote on May 28: “A report in the Beirut-based Daily Star newspaper suggested a photo released by McCain’s office from the trip showed the Arizona senator standing alongside two men accused of kidnapping 11 Lebanese Shiite pilgrims in May 2012.”