Middle East
4:30 am
Mon June 10, 2013

Syrian Government Limits Humanitarian Aid To Qusair

Originally published on Sun June 16, 2013 8:18 am

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The last remaining villages of the embattled Syrian region, Qusair fell to government forces and fighters from the Lebanese-Shiite militia, Hezbollah, over the weekend. The main concern now is what's happening to the civilians there. The Syrian government has severely limited humanitarian groups, like the Red Cross, from getting in and aiding the people of Qusair.

NPR's Kelly McEvers is monitoring the story from nearby Beirut. She joins us. And, Kelly, what is the situation for civilians in Qusair?

KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: Well, the town of Qusair fell last week, as you know, Renee. And the number of people who were inside the town at that time is unclear. But what we know is it's probably in the thousands. That night that the town fell, rebels and civilians basically walked out of Qusair town in the middle of the night, heading for villages north of the town; basically scattering around in the countryside. Whether they just escaped or were allowed some negotiated passage, we don't know.

What we do know is that they, you know, we're carrying injured people on their backs; that they basically only had to whatever food they could bring with them; and that they were sleeping in orchards and trying to take refuge in some of these villages.

What just happened this weekend is that, you know, Hezbollah forces and the Syrian army took these villages. And now these people really don't have any refuge at all. Some are still living in farms. A human rights organization has said it has lost contact with some of the people living in one farm area. Others went to the Syrian town of Yabrud and then the Syrian army started shelling the hospital there.

So basically, the Syrian government has decided that these people - these civilians - because they sided with the rebels that they are also enemies.

MONTAGNE: But some were - both the rebels and civilians - allowed passage into Lebanon, right?

MCEVERS: That's right. Several dozen injured people were allowed to cross into Lebanon. And once they do get here into Lebanon and the Red Cross is allowed to help them. But their problems don't end there. We know that Red Cross vehicles, as they were transporting injured people and went through pro-Hezbollah areas, were actually pelted with stones. We also were told that once the injured people reached the hospital that the hospitals actually stormed by locals.

MONTAGNE: So tensions are already high there in Lebanon with this war spilling somewhat over the border. How is the fall of Qusair affecting the situation there?

MCEVERS: Right, the situation is very tense here in Lebanon. Just yesterday, there was an anti-Hezbollah rally. You see some people here in Lebanon very angry about the fact that Hezbollah has decided to cross the border and get involved in the fighting in Syria. One anti-Hezbollah protester was killed outside the Iranian Embassy here, several other people were injured when pro-Hezbollah thugs basically attacked people in the street with batons, began shooting shots into the air.

It's not completely clear how this protester was killed. But it definitely has people worried that sectarian tensions are spilling over here into Lebanon.

MONTAGNE: And the AP is reporting that President Obama will be holding meetings in the coming days to consider providing weapons to Syrian rebels. Talk to us about that.

MCEVERS: And this is something an administration official told me in Washington last month, that the administration is getting closer and closer to getting involved in Syria militarily. I would imagine that things have stepped up now that Britain and France are confirming that the Syrian government used low levels of sarin gas. And, as you know, this victory in Qusair means that Hezbollah and the Syrian army are on the march, vowing to take the Syrian city of Homs and possibly go on to Aleppo.

The question I think is, is the administration serious about providing heavy weapons to the Syrian rebels; weapons that could change things on the battlefield, or even some kind of no-fly zone in the country. Or is this just another incremental change in the rhetoric, you know, that's meant to pressure Russia and Syria's other allies into changing their position?

MONTAGNE: Kelly, thanks very much.

MCEVERS: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Kelly McEvers, speaking to us from Beirut.

This is NPR News.

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