- The Washington Times - Monday, June 3, 2013

Syria’s opposition called Russia “a partner in the murder of innocent civilians,” as rebels in a besieged town near the border with Lebanon on Monday accused Syrian troops and their Lebanese Hezbollah allies of killing 300 and wounding 1,300.

The Syrian National Coalition said Russia had put the lives of tens of thousands of civilians in jeopardy by blocking a U.N. Security Council draft declaration that would have criticized the Syrian regime’s offensive against the rebel-held town of Qusair.

In the past week, Qusair’s population has shrunk from 40,000 to about 20,000, as hundreds flee the fighting every day.

Hezbollah terrorists killed seven people, including two children, as they tried to flee Qusair in their car Saturday, said Sami Ibrahim, a spokesman for the Syrian Network for Human Rights.

“Fleeing is very tough, but it is the only choice that people have,” Mr. Ibrahim said from Damascus, the Syria capital.

The regime cut off water and electricity to Qusair more than five months ago. The town has run out of flour and medical supplies, including oxygen, according to multiple rebel sources.

SEE ALSO: Syrian troops retake Jobar, a key Damascus district

“We don’t know what is preventing the Red Cross from visiting Qusair,” Mr. Ibrahim said. “But the result is that civilians don’t have any medicine.”

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem told U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a phone conversation Sunday that the Red Cross will only be able to enter Qusair “after the end of military operations there,” Syria’s state-run news agency SANA reported.

Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain called on the U.S. to establish a no-fly zone over Syria and support rebel groups with cruise missile strikes.

“This thing could spread and engulf the entire Middle East in a civil war and a regional conflict,” the Arizona Republican said Monday on “CBS This Morning.”

Mr. McCain, who made a surprise visit to Syria last week to meet with rebel leaders, also said the British and French are ready to help but are waiting for the U.S. to lead.

“I believe we could still intervene by cruise missiles taking out their [air forces] on the runway, providing a safe zone protected by Patriot missiles. No boots on the ground. No American aircraft overhead,” he said.

Setting up a no-fly zone would be an expensive and difficult proposition, given Syria’s vast air-defense network. The U.N. Security Council has not authorized a no-fly zone over Syria, and Russia would likely veto any effort to establish one.

The British-drafted Security Council declaration expressed “grave concern” over the situation in Qusair. Russia blocked it because it amounted to a unilateral cease-fire by the regime’s forces, said a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman.

Last month, Russia said it plans to go ahead with the sale of S-300 air defense missiles to Syrian President Bashar Assad, who is locked in a two-year-old civil war that has claimed the lives of more than 80,000 Syrians.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov last week accused the rebel coalition of trying to derail peace efforts by demanding Mr. Assad resign as a precondition to joining an international conference proposed by the United States and Russia.

• Seth McLaughlin contributed to this report.

• Ashish Kumar Sen can be reached at asen@washingtontimes.com.

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