Syria rebels frustrated

April 21, 2013 - 1:17:00 am

US Secretary of State John Kerry (right) meets Syrian opposition leader Moaz Al Khatib in Istanbul yesterday. Kerry arrived in Istanbul to attend a Friends of Syria meeting.

ISTANBUL: Syrian opposition figures voiced frustration with their international backers yesterday in the face of reluctance from some to supply the rebels with weapons and a call for them to distance themselves from extremist forces. 

Speaking at a meeting of the Friends of Syria in Istanbul, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Germany was sceptical about supplying weapons to the rebels but said the subject should be discussed by the European Union.

Washington plans to provide about $100m in new non-lethal aid to the Syrian opposition that could include for the first time battlefield support equipment such as body armour and night-vision goggles, US officials said. reuters

Fierce battles rage in Homs

BEIRUT: Fierce battles raged yesterday in flashpoint areas of Syria’s central province of Homs near the Lebanese border, a watchdog said, adding that six shells fell across the border in Lebanon.

One of the shells hit the town of Hermel in eastern Lebanon — a stronghold of the Hezbollah — the first time violence from Syria spilled over into the town, a Lebanese security source said.

Earlier troops loyal to President Bashar Al Assad’s regime seized Radwaniyeh village near the rebel-held town of Qusayr in Homs province and hours later fresh fighting raged in nearby Tal Al Nabi Mando, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. Tal is important because it is located on a hilltop, giving whoever controls it a strategic advantage.

The Britain-based Observatory said those fighting insurgents were regime troops, pro-regime militiamen and fighters loyal to powerful Lebanese Shia movement Hezbollah, which supports Assad’s regime. “The situation here is very bad. They are trying to take control of the countryside surrounding Qusayr, in order to then attack us in the city,” activist Hadi Al Abdallah said.

The Lebanese security source said the six shells were fired from Syria and hit the town of Hermel and its countryside. No one was hurt, the source said.

One shell fell in the Dawra neighbourhood of Hermel while two hit the Sahlet Al May area on the outskirts and three others fell in and around the nearby town of Qasr, the security source said.

The shells triggered panic and residents rushed to take cover indoors as shops in Hermel closed.

“The situation is unbearable. The (Lebanese) army should respond to the sources of fire. People are frightened,” said Ali Shamas, a 50-year-old school principal from the town.

Cross-border shellfire from the Syrian war has regularly hit Lebanon, on occasion killing Lebanese. Lebanon is sharply divided over the Syria conflict, with Hezbollah and its allies backing the regime of Assad while the Sunni-led March 14 movement supporting the uprising.

Until 2005, Damascus dominated Lebanon politically and militarily for 30 years. Elsewhere, battles raged near Damascus, where at least 69 people, many of them rebels, were killed in four days of fighting against government forces in Jdaidet Al Fadl, said the Observatory.