War without end

With each side increasing the pressure, the Syrian conflict could soon overwhelm Lebanon

After two years, with a casualty list exceeding 80,000, the Syrian civil war is in one of its most intense and dangerous weeks yet because of the increased pressure each side has brought to bear on the other. The EU's decision to lift the arms embargo on the rebels has met with an angry Moscow reiterating its intention to supply the Bashar al-Assad regime with S-300 anti-aircraft missiles a move that has irked Israel, which fears their journey to Hezbollah. This face-off threatens to overshadow Washington's painstaking efforts to organise a conference on Syria next month with the help of a hitherto intransigent Moscow. Meanwhile, the Shiite Hezbollah has sent reinforcements to help Assad's troops , provoking an ultimatum from the rebels and rocket attacks on Hezbollah territory in Lebanon, reportedly from Lebanese factions allied to Syria's largely Sunni rebels.

The end of the embargo will not make any immediate difference on the ground, since it's meant as a warning to Assad. So far, the debate on arming the opposition had been framed by fears of anti-aircraft and armour-penetrating weapons falling in Islamists' hands as well as the fact that the rebels' lack of firepower was helping the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra front edge the moderates out. But the opposition, having lost all battles of late, is in disarray, with its fighters on the ground claiming the foreign-based Syrian National Coalition no longer represents them fully.

If efforts to bring the warring sides to the negotiating table fail again, Lebanon will be the first casualty, as its ethnic-religious factions are already fighting on both sides of the border, evoking spectres of its civil war. At the current rate, the conflict will last much longer, costing many more lives. The regime's victory in the ongoing battle for Qusair could upset a negotiated transition by bolstering Assad, whom the rebels don't want included in that process.

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