Homs falls to Assad: UN, Iranian officers secure Syrian rebels’ exit after Iranian hostages freed in Aleppo

A joint team of UN observers and Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers in civilian dress began evacuating some 2,000 Syrian rebels and their families from the Old City of Homs on Wednesday, May 7, so ending a cruel two-year siege. The rebels’ exodus from their last remaining stronghold represented another major victory for Syrian President Bashar Assad. As a rebel on his way out put it to Western reporters, “The rest of the world failed us.”

For two years, the armed Syrian opposition to Assad held onto Homs as the capital of their revolution, against the Syrian army’s ultimatum “to starve of surrender" and the most brutal assaults. Assad’s army bombarded the Old City of Homs with chemical weapons and barrel bombs for two years. Syrian tanks and heavy artillery methodically destroyed homes, street-by-street, house-by-house, driving the rebels and their families into underground cellars and tunnels, without food, water or medicine.

In despair, the rebels finally gave up. Their exit from from Homs Old City under UN and Iranian protection was the final admission of their inability to vanquish Assad and his main backers, the Iranians.

To secure Assad’s consent to their exit from this hell, the rebels agreed to the release of Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers held hostage by comrades in Aleppo, and to a withdrawal from a number of Shiite towns and villages in central and northern Syria.

debkafile’s sources note the grim symbolism in the timing of the final surrender of Homs Wednesday, just one day after the Obama administration declared it was granting the main Syrian opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition-SNC, permission to open a foreign mission in Washington under the Foreign Missions Act.

Obama administration officials, senior senators and congressmen vied against each other over a few minutes with opposition leader Ahmad Jarba, who was in Washington. The administration also announced that it was allocating an additional $27 million in “non-lethal assistance” for the rebels to combat Assad.

The dissonance is clear and deadly: the Obama administration is continuing its war on Assad in the halls of Capitol building, with no regard for what is happening on the ground in Syria.

After the resounding collapse of the Geneva II peace talks in early February, and US Secretary of State John Kerry’s failure to convene a Geneva III, it became clear that Moscow and Tehran had intensified their cooperative effort to keep the US from intervening in Syria.

The Obama administration tried to dispel this impression with deliberate leaks in April, suggesting that Washington was finally supplying the rebels with US BGM-71 TOW missiles and SA-16-9K310 Igla-1 anti-aircraft missiles. But debkafile’s military sources report that the quantities supplied were so small that they had little impact on the battlefield and Assad’s forces retained the upper hand.

The timing of the Wednesday surrender and the involvement of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards also corresponds nicely with US National Security Advisor Susan Rice’s arrival in Israel for talks on the nuclear issue.

That the UN stood in need of Iranian assistance to accomplish this rescue operation attested to the importance the world body attaches to Iran’s indispensible role in Damascus and its recognition that the Revolutionary Guards – even more than the Russians – are the only military force in the area able to control the Syrian and Hizballah military forces on the ground.

With all this underway, can Rice offer anything new to the Israeli political and security leadership, which is up against the reality of a US policy which only bolsters the Islamic Republic and its Middle East allies and the Iran-Syria-Hizballah axis?
Moscow, furthermore, continues to lavish high-quality arms on Assad’s armed forces.

The state-owned arms Rosoboronexport will deliver the first batch of nine Russian Yakovlev Yak-130 jet trainers to the Syrian government by the end of this year. The contract for 36 aircraft is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2016, a source close to the deal told the local business daily Kommersant. The next 12 aircraft will be delivered in 2015, and a further 15 jet trainers in 2016.

“Thus, we will fulfill the obligations under a previously signed contract,” the source was quoted as saying.

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