US criticizes Russian missile sale to Assad regime.
DAMASCUS – Syrian government forces launched airstrikes Sunday on the rebelheld city of Qusayr in Homs province, the opposition said, according to CNN. The offensive comes after months of fighting on the outskirts of the ity, said Abu Ali, an opposition spokesman. Syrian state television confirmed that an assault is under way.
“The Syrian Army has tightened its siege on terrorists and is attacking their headquarters in the southern part of Qusayr,”
state media reported. The city has been under rebel control for months. The opposition also accused Hezbollah fighters from neighboring Lebanon of joining Syrian government troops in the assault, a claim the government of President Bashar al-Assad has disputed in the past.
The ethnic Shia militant group is considered a terror organization by the U.S. government and is a traditional ally of
al-Assad as well as Iran. Government forces have intensified shelling over the last four days, Ali said. Sunday’s attacks
have claimed the lives of 13 people and injured 300 more, he said. The Syrian Observatory and another activist group, the Local Coordination Committees corroborated the number those killed. In a separate development,
top U.S. military officer General Martin Dempsey said Russian missile shipments to Syria are “illtimed” and “very unfortunate,” the Voice of America reports.
The remarks were the first U.S. confirmation that Russia made the sale of so-called shipkiller cruise missiles to Syria.
Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Friday the missiles will embolden
President Bashar al-Assad and prolong the suffering in Syria.
The New York Times says the Russian anti-ship cruise missiles are more advanced than previous shipments. Russia has said it is fulfilling its contractual obligations to Syria and has no interest in seeing President Assad remain in power.
Russia and the United States are working on putting together an international peace conference on Syria for next month. The meeting would bring the opposition and Syrian government together and clear the way for a new transitional government.
France’s Foreign Ministry said Friday it opposes Iranian participation in the peace talks.
A spokesman says France cannot see how a country that threatens regional stability like Iran can take part.
Russia has said Iran, a close Syrian ally, must be included in the talks and accuses the West of trying to narrow the circle of participants.
The United States has not yet said who can attend, saying it does not want to make any pre-determinations.