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05/30/2013

A bleak week in Syria

Syria
Lebanese, Ali Jawahri, 23, was wounded as he was helping his relatives after a second rocket hit their home by Syrian rebels according to villagers, in Hermel town, northeast of Lebanon,  May 29. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Developments in Syria's civil war continue to be bleak. Here is a breakdown of what’s happening on the military, humanitarian and diplomatic fronts.

Military:

Syria has received its first shipment of advanced air defence missiles from Russia, President Bashar Assad confirmed. In an interview with Al Manar, pro-Syrian TV channel in Lebanon, Assad said S300 anti-aircraft missiles have arrived.

This is hugely significant because there is a fear of an arms race in the Middle East. The European Union’s arms embargo on Syria will expire tomorrow and rebels have been pleading for more weapons to defend themselves. The Israelis have threatened to retaliate against any Russian arms shipments. 

In extracts of an interview published in Al Akhbar, pro-Syrian newspaper in Lebanon, Assad also claimed that the military’s balance of power has turned in his army’s favour and that Syria and Shiite militant group Hezbollah were part of the same “axis”.

Humanitarian:

The UN’s World Food Programme will need to feed 3 million Syrians in the country by July the organization said.

That’s an extra half a million from the current 2.5 million people the organization is trying to reach in all 14 governorates where residents are trapped by fighting and unable to tend their farms or access markets. Rice, lentils, sugar, vegetable oil, salt, bulgur wheat are being distributed.

The situation is so desperate that last month wheat flour was introduced in some areas where there are severe bread shortages.

In the north east, toddlers are suffering from malnutrition compounded by four years of drought that began four years prior to the uprising in 2011. WFP is distributing Nutributter, a fortified peanut paste to children under the age of 2 particularly in areas which have seen the worst fighting such as Deir Ezzor. 

The UN's death count recently rose to 80,000.  

Diplomacy:

The involvement of Hezbollah has complicated the war even further.

The political opposition, the Syrian National Coalition says it will not participate in a US-Russian backed peace conference slated for June until the killing stops in Qasair. The town near Lebanon's border serves as a conduit for getting weapons to rebels and Hezbollah fighters are supporting Syrian army troops to take control of it.  


“In light of this savagery, any talk of an international conference or a political solution in Syria is just meaningless chatter,” George Sabra, interim leader of the Syrian National Coalition told reporters in Istanbul. 

Hamida Ghafour is a foreign affairs reporter at the Star. She has lived and worked in the Middle East and Asia for more than 10 years and is the author of a book on Afghanistan. Follow her on Twitter @HamidaGhafour

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