The Syrian government claimed an important victory today, wresting control of Qusair, a key city near the Lebanese border, from rebel fighters.
"State-run TV credited an offensive 'that led to the annihilation of a number of terrorists,' the government's term for rebels.
" 'Our heroic armed forces are always determined to confront any aggression that our beloved homeland may face in the future,' an anchor on Syrian state television said.
"The Syrian opposition acknowledged the report.
" 'Yes, dear brethren, this is a battle that we lost, but the war is not over yet,' said the Homs Revolution News, which is associated with the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, an opposition activist network."
As NPR's Kelly McEvers reported last month, the battle for that city has been fierce. Kelly reported that adding to the complexity of the situation was the fact that locals reported Hezbollah had sent its fighters to the city from Lebanon.
NPR's Rima Marrouch spoke to Abu Moatassem, a Syrian activist, who said about 36 people had been killed and 1,200 wounded in the past 24 hours.
The New York Times reports that the battle for Qusair "gave new momentum" to the forces of President Bashar Assad. The rebels had held that city for more than a year.
"He who controls Qusayr controls the center of the country and he who controls the center of the country controls the whole of Syria," the Times quotes Syrian Brig. Gen. Yahya Suleiman as saying.
In other, related news, the British and the French have said that samples smuggled out of Syria tested positive for the nerve agent sarin.
"The Foreign Office confirmed that body fluids collected from victims of one or more attacks in the country were found to contain a chemical fingerprint of sarin at the Ministry of Defence's Porton Down facility in Wiltshire. In Paris, the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, said he had passed similar evidence to the head of the UN inquiry into chemical weapon use in Syria, Ake Sellström.
"'On France's behalf, I handed him the results of the analyses carried out by our laboratory, chosen by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to identify military toxins,' Fabius said. 'These analyses demonstrate the presence of sarin gas in the samples in our possession. In view of this evidence, France is now certain that sarin gas has been used in Syria several times and in a localised manner. We decided to inform the relevant UN mission of the evidence in our possession, immediately and publicly. It would be intolerable for those guilty of these crimes to enjoy impunity.'"
The BBC reports that France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said it was the Assad regime — not the rebels — who used the chemical weapons.
This is, of course, important because the United States has continually pointed to chemical weapons use as a game changer in the conflict.
Update at 1:45 p.m. ET. The British Position:
It's worth noting that the British came close but did not fully endorse the French position. The Telegraph reports that a U.K. government spokesman said "There is a growing body of limited but persuasive information showing that the regime used - and continues to use - chemical weapons, including sarin."