US pressure on Syrian opposition ‘not enough’

US pressure on Syrian opposition ‘not enough’

The United States is not putting enough pressure on the Syrian opposition to participate in an international peace conference and drop its demand for President Bashar al-Assad’s exit, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said yesterday.

Russia and the United States announced May 7 that they would try to bring al-Assad’s government and its opponents together as soon as possible at an international conference to seek an end to the civil war, but no date has been set.

“In our view, the United States is definitely not working hard enough in terms of putting influence on Syrian opposition groups so that (they) will come to the international conference,” state-run RIA news agency quoted Ryabkov as saying.

He said the United States “should not allow the opposition to try to issue ultimatums and impose preconditions. The main such condition ... is the demand for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s exit.”

The opposition Syrian National Coalition said late last month it would only take part in the peace talks if a deadline was set for a settlement that would force al-Assad to leave power.

On the ground, Syrian warplanes pounded the embattled town of Qusair yesterday as a regime offensive backed by fighters from Lebanon’s Hezbollah to retake the town from rebels entered its third week. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported a fierce overnight onslaught both on the strategic town near the border with Lebanon and slightly farther north in Dabaa.

Dabaa, the site of a disused military airbase that had been seized by rebels, is still partly under insurgent control.

No entrance to Qusair

At least 300 seriously wounded residents of an embattled Syrian town near the border with Lebanon need to be evacuated for medical treatment, a doctor told the Associated Press yesterday. Kasem Alzein, who coordinates treatment in several makeshift hospitals in Qusair, said the wounded are being treated in private homes after the town’s main hospital was destroyed during fighting between two sides.

Appeals by the United Nations and other aid organizations to allow humanitarian workers to enter the town have gone unheeded by authorites in Damascus as fighting drags on and neither side has been able to deliver a decisive blow.

On June 2, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon called Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem to express concern over the situation in Qusair, according to Syria’s state-run news agency SANA. However, al-Moallem told the U.N. chief that the Red Cross and other aid agencies will only be able to enter Qusair “after the end of military operations there,” SANA said.