DAMASCUS: At least 60 Shiite villagers died in clashes with rebels in eastern Syria, while twin suicide bombings hit Damascus as the West moved to support the opposition following battlefield losses against pro-regime forces.
Despite Tuesday’s attacks, Bashar al-Assad’s regime, dominated by his Alawite sect of Shiite Islam, appears to have gained the upper hand against mainly Sunni Muslim rebels, buoyed by military support from its Shiite allies, Hezbollah and Iran.
With regime forces gaining ground, France said that the nearly 27-month conflict, which is estimated to have killed at least 94,000 people, is at a “turning point” and that it is time to review whether to arm the opposition.
The issue of military support is likely to top the agenda when US Secretary of State John Kerry meets in Washington with British counterpart William Hague on Wednesday.
“Armed Shiite villagers attacked a nearby rebel post yesterday and killed two. Today [Tuesday] rebels attacked the village and took control of it, killing 60 Shiite residents, most of them fighters,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The clashes came in the majority Sunni village of Hatlah, in eastern Deir Ezzor province.
At least 10 rebels were also killed in the fighting on Tuesday, and Shiite residents of Hatlah were fleeing following the violence, Abdul Rahman said.
Earlier in Damascus, two suicide bombings left at least 14 people dead and 31 wounded, and caused widespread damage in the Marjeh neighborhood, state media and the rights Observatory said.
Syria’s cabinet denounced the attack, saying “armed terrorist groups and those behind them have failed completely because of the victories achieved by our brave army”.
Forces loyal to President Assad, including thousands of Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, have overrun rebel fighters in central Syria in the past week, including in the strategic town of Qusayr.
Plans to bring together members of Assad’s regime and the opposition at talks in Geneva have so far failed to come to fruition, and Hague at the weekend warned that regime gains on the ground raised new hurdles.
US President Barack Obama has asked his national security team to “look at all options” to end the fighting, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki reiterated on Tuesday, adding however there would be no American “boots on the ground.”