'Sunni cleansing' in Syria?
Syrian elite troops are backing up an offensive apparently led by Hezbollah against rebels in the strategic town of Qusayr, as the UN Human Rights Council debates a resolution condemning the assault. Russia meanwhile protests a European Union decision to lift its arms embargo on the Syrian rebels, and says it will respond by supplying Damascus with S-300 air-defense missiles. This, in turn, is decried as a "threat" by Israel, which warns it could launch air-strikes to destroy any deployed missiles. "The situation is beginning to show worrying signs of destabilizing the region as a whole," said UN rights chief Navi Pillay.
Turkey sees in the battle for Qusayr a strategy to create an Alawite mini-state within Syria, purged of Sunni Muslims, to which the ruling elite can withdraw for a last stand. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said: "With the help of Hezbollah and Iran, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has launched efforts to establish a Shiite-Nusayri [Alawite] belt stretching to the Bekaa Valley. The massacre in Banias is reminiscent of the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia that sought to purge the Muslims. The bombings in [the Turkish border town of] Reyhanli are also part of the drive to establish a Shiite-Nusayri belt stretching from South Lebanon to the [Turkish border province of] Hatay."
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says it has documented the deaths of at least 145 in a "sectarian massacre" on May 3 in the coastal city of Banias. The number of identified victims, among them children and babies, has risen over the past weeks because "dozens were missing, their bodies buried in their burnt-down homes, or under the rubble of their houses", said the UK-based group. Some victims were "buried in secret, while the security forces were present," the group said. Fighters who carried out the massacre in the city's Ras al-Nabaa neighborhood apparently included regular troops as well as militiamen of the paramilitary National Defense Force. (Al Monitor, AFP, May 29; AP, May 28; News24, May 16)