Acknowledges Hizbollah role in Qusair fighting
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has declared that the first batch of game-changing Russian S-300 missiles had already arrived, seemingly closing his foes’ option of establishing a no-fly zone or mounting air strikes.
Timed perfectly to a joint offensive by the forces and Lebanese Hizbollah in the strategic border town of Qusair, Mr. Assad told Lebanon’s Al Manar television that the second batch of the missiles that can target aircraft and missiles hundreds of kilometres away, was on its way. These assertions are part of a psychological counteroffensive that the embattled President has mounted against his adversaries, especially Israel, which had earlier this month aerially bombarded a Syrian facility housing rockets meant for Hizbollah.
On Tuesday, Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon had hoped the S-300 missiles would not leave Russian shores but warned that if they do, “we will know what to do”. The cycle of psychological ascendancy has also included Russia, whose Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov had remarked that transfer of the S-300 missiles would be a “stabilising factor” that could deter “some hotheads” from internationalising the conflict.
Mr. Assad sounded upbeat when he told the Lebanese channel that the “Syrian army has scored major victories against armed rebels on the ground and the balance of power is now with the Syrian army”.
Support from Russia and Hizbollah seems to have steeled the government forces and turned the tide on the battlefield in their favour. The Syrian President acknowledged that the Hizbollah fighters “are deployed along the Lebanese-Syrian borders but the operations are conducted by the Syrian army until the terrorist groups are crushed”.
According to the French intelligence services, around 3,000-4,000 Hizbollah guerrillas are fighting in Syria. Referring to Hizbollah, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said: “When you have fighters that are really well-armed that are prepared to die and there are several thousand of them that makes a difference”.
With fighting raging, and the strategic border town of Qusair under fire, the opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC) has announced that it will not participate in the Geneva-II talks sponsored jointly by Russia and the U.S. George Sabra, head of the SNC, said talks were farcical when the government forces and Hizbollah were carrying out heinous crimes.
In Qusair — the main point of infiltration of foreign fighters from Lebanon — Syrian forces have recaptured the Al Dabaa airport on the northern outskirts of the city. With the town virtually besieged, officials said a corridor had been established to allow civilians to escape along with fighters who surrender their weapons, countering the opposition’s line that a “massacre” was imminent.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov slammed the opposition’s decision to boycott the Geneva-II talks. “This is what they are seeking. My impression is that the [Syrian] National Coalition and its regional sponsors are doing everything possible to prevent the start of a political process and are trying to secure military intervention in Syria by any methods, including the dishonest tampering with public opinion in the West,” said Mr. Lavrov at a press conference in Moscow on Thursday.