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Middle East

Al-Qa'ida head Ayman al-Zawahri posts video call for Syrians to topple President Assad after fall of border town Qusayr

'America, its agents and allies want you to bring down the criminal Baathist regime, and then set up a government loyal to them'

The head of al-Qa'ida, Ayman al-Zawahri, has called on Syrians to unite and topple President Bashar al-Assad, just a day after government captured the strategically important town of Qusayr.

In a video posted online to mark the 65th anniversary of the founding of Israel, al-Zawahri accused the United States of trying to establish a client state in Syria. "Lions of the Levant, unite around this honourable goal and rise above sectarian affiliations," he said. "America, its agents and allies want you to shed your blood and the blood of your children and women to bring down the criminal Baathist regime, and then set up a government loyal to them and to safeguard Israel's security."

The intervention comes as the Syrian regime appears to be gaining the upper hand in the conflict. In recent weeks, thousands of fighters from Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group, have crossed the border to flight alongside regular Syrian forces. The extra firepower helped loyalist forces capture Qusayr yesterday, Wednesday, after they had laid siege to town for weeks. Activists report that scores of civilians urgently require medical help in Qusair, that supplies of food are running short, and that only a handful of buildings have been left unscathed.

The message from al-Zawahri makes for an odd situation. While accusing the Americans of wanting to establish a client state, both Al-Qa'ida and the Americans have called for the Assad to leave office. It also pits al-Qa'ida against Iran-backed Hezbollah.

Al-Zawahri also dismissed American efforts to restart the Middle East peace process, saying that only Jihad could establish an independent Palestine. "Every free Muslim in Palestine should unite with his Muslim brothers to implement Sharia [law] and rule by it, and make it a reference above all references, and to liberate Palestine in order to set up an Islamic state, even if the West hates that and calls it terrorism and extremism," he said.

Most Palestinians and the Israelis say they are committed to John Kerry's attempt to restart talks between the two sides, and to a two-state solution. Both concede however, that time is running out to find a solution to the conflict.