More rebels arrive in besieged Qusayr to fight Assad’s troops
Rebels break through blockade mounted by Syrian army and allied fighters from Hizbullah
Forces loyal to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in Qusayr village near the Lebanese border, where rebels relieved besieged comrades yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Rami Bleible
Rebels came to back up comrades in the besieged Syrian town of Qusayr yesterday, breaking through the blockade mounted by the Syrian army and allied fighters from the Lebanese Hizbullah movement.
Acting head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition George Sabra, who had appealed for fighters, said 1,000 men from across Syria had arrived to support the rebel cause in Qusayr, although sources in the town said the number was far lower.
The Qatari-backed fundamentalist Tawhid Brigades said its fighters were among the reinforcements.
The British-based opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the rebels had infiltrated army lines near the village of Shamsein, on the main Damascus-Homs highway, and that Syrian troops had attacked a convoy evacuating wounded people from Qusayr, killing nine and wounding “tens of people”.
In the northwest Idlib province near the Turkish border, three westerners were killed at an army checkpoint while travelling in a car with armed fighters from the fundamentalist but not jihadist Suqur al-Sham (Syrian Falcons) brigade conducting operations against pro-government militia.
Two have been identified as Briton Ali Almanasfi (22), from Acton, west London, and Nicole Mansfield (33), from Flint, Michigan, who had converted to Islam and had been living in Dubai. The third is believed to be Canadian.
A survey conducted by King’s College, Cambridge, found that up to 600 Europeans from 14 countries, 7-11 per cent of foreigners involved, had fought in Syria since the conflict began in 2011.
The arrival of reinforcements at the main battle front coincided with a partial political breakthrough at a gathering in Istanbul of the fractured coalition, when the 60-member governing body admitted 43 new members to expand representation.
Fourteen are thought to belong to the liberal Union of Syrian Democrats headed by veteran dissident Michel Kilo; 14 to four domestic opposition groupings, including the local co-ordination committees; and 15 to the Free Syrian Army.
While Mr Kilo has apparently chosen his nominees, no means of selecting candidates for the other two groups has been established and further wrangling is expected at the coalition’s next scheduled meeting on June 12th, a date mentioned for the start of the US-Russian-sponsored international conference on Syria.
Mr Sabra said the choice of a new coalition president to replace independent figure Moaz Khatib who resigned in March had been postponed at least until mid-June.
This suggests the coalition is determined to delay the proposed conference for as long as possible, perhaps with the aim of halting the Syrian army’s advance in Damascus and Homs and obtaining fresh arms supplies for the rebels.
The EU formally amended its sanctions on Syria, renewing its “restrictive measures against the Syrian regime” while lifting its embargo on arms supplies to the rebels. The package of measures will remain in place for a year.
The UN Security Council placed al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra, once the most effective fighting force in Syria, on its sanctions list, imposing an arms ban and asset freeze.