Any hope of a negotiated end to the Syrian crisis may have died with the victory of government forces in al-Qusair, the Institute for the Study of War said in a report.
“That the regime was able to execute such an operation at this stage of the war testifies to its resilience and adaptability, and, more importantly, to the unswerving support of its allies Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah,” said Elizabeth O’Bagy, a senior analyst at the Washington-based group, and author of the report titled “The Fall of Al-Qusair”. “This portends the failure of the summit and an end to international efforts to resolve the conflict through negotiations.”
A proposed peace conference to resolve the war in Geneva next month was already facing multiple difficulties: the U.S. and Russia, its main sponsors, have yet to agree who should attend, while it’s also unclear which parts of the opposition might join in. At least 80,000 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising began in 2011, millions of others have been displaced and reports of human rights abuses on both sides are increasing, the United Nations said this week.
Government control of al-Qusair, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) southwest of Homs, secures lines of communication from Damascus to the coast, cuts cross-border weapons supplies for the rebels and provides a staging ground for efforts to retake opposition areas to the north and east, the report said.
Assad’s government revealed a new approach to fighting in al-Qusair, and carried out operations in three phases, O’Bagy said.
The first phase in early May began with heavy bombardment to weaken rebel positions. That was followed by the infiltration of irregular allied units from the south. Finally, armor-backed infantry attacks were launched, O’Bagy said. Each stage was achieved through the coordination of separate chains of command, and thousands of Hezbollah fighters, and possibly Iraqi and Iranian fighters, joined in, she said.
“That the regime was able to cooperate so closely with Hezbollah leadership in combining regular, irregular, and allied units with separate functions speaks to the close nature of the relationship between the Syrian government and Hezbollah,” the analyst said.
Although al-Qusair may not be the decisive battle for Syria, it should be seen as an “important turning point” and the most important military victory of the past two years, O’Bagy said. “If the international community truly seeks to enforce a negotiated settlement, they will have to do something to decisively change the balance of power on the ground ahead of the negotiations.”
Britain and France plan to arm the Syrian rebels if the Geneva meeting fails to make progress, according to unidentified U.K. officials cited by the Financial Times on May 31. The same officials said London and Paris expected the U.S. to send weapons too if the talks failed.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in comments broadcast on state television today that arming the rebels was “the road to nowhere.”
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