By Sarah Walton
Where is it? What is it?
Qusair is a Syrian town of almost 40,000 souls … or it was. Now it is a shattered shambles filled with hundreds of wounded civilians.
Qusair is small but strategic: it’s in the province of Homs and lies on a main thoroughfare between Lebanon and Syria. Held by Syrian rebel forces for over a year, Qusair gave the insurgents a major supply route for arms, supplies and recruits to come via Lebanon.
Qusair is also on President Bashar al-Assad’s main escape route into Alawite (Assad’s offshoot of Shiism) territory (should he ever need to flee). Nearly a month ago Assad decided to recover the town.
At this point Qusair became a symbol.
Pouring his best troops into Qusair, along with 4,000 troops from Lebanese ally Hazbollah, Assad expected the attack to be short and decisive. Qusair would become a symbol of Assad’s continuing grip on Syria, as well as an expression of Shiite power.
For a few hours on the first day of the offensive it appeared Assad would be right, as his forces and Hezbollah took the southern and eastern parts of the city.
Three weeks-plus later the rebels are still entrenched to the North and West of Qusair -- despite being hugely outnumbered, constantly subjected to aerial attacks as well as onslaughts by tanks and mortars.
At this point in time Qusair’s role as a symbol of what is happening in Syria has become multifaceted.
Qusair is a symbol of the fact that Assad, despite huge superiority -- both in number and in supplies – cannot vanquish his enemies. How long will the man be allowed to destroy and decimate his own nation?
Qusair is a symbol of the huge role sectarianism between Shiites and Sunnis plays in the Middle East. Assad and Hezbollah are both Shiite, as is their other ally, Iran. The rebels are largely Sunni and are supported by Sunni Arab nations like Saudi Arabia.
Qusair also has become a symbol of everything that is dysfunctional in the Middle East, as well as a symbol of the blind eye the West continues to turn toward Syria, while mumbling apologetically.
One day a major story is published in the western press about the Red Crescent running its humanitarian efforts in Syria “regardless of religion or sect.” How noble.
The next day AP and The Times of Israel run a story about how the Syrian government is shutting out the Red Cross “until completion of a military engagement.” This utter disregard for Syrian lives has left Qusair totally cut off from medical relief and supplies. In fact, Assad's forces destroyed a humanitarian convoy attempting to leave Qusair, killing 13 already-wounded souls.
And yet, perhaps the strangest thing of all about the siege of Qusair is the almost complete lack of press coverage, until just the last couple of days!
The offensive upon Qusair has been hidden, virtually muffled by the sounds of other places and fights.
Why? By whom?
If the West is truly supportive of the rebel efforts, why aren’t they touting Qusair as a huge example of rebel righteousness? Why aren’t they emphasizing the importance of Assad and Hezbollah’s inability to eliminate the rebels in one little town?
As so often happens in the Middle East, one is left – once again – to ponder what is really happening here, who is really doing it, why it's really happening and who is really behind it all.