News / Middle East

Assad Regime Recaptures Air Base, Presses Siege of Syria Border Town

Residents of Qusair, Syria salvage copies of the Quran from a mosque bombed by government forces on May 21, 2013. Members of the militant Shi’a Hezbollah in Lebanon have joined regime troops to retake the border town of Qusair from rebel hands.Residents of Qusair, Syria salvage copies of the Quran from a mosque bombed by government forces on May 21, 2013. Members of the militant Shi’a Hezbollah in Lebanon have joined regime troops to retake the border town of Qusair from rebel hands.
x
Residents of Qusair, Syria salvage copies of the Quran from a mosque bombed by government forces on May 21, 2013. Members of the militant Shi’a Hezbollah in Lebanon have joined regime troops to retake the border town of Qusair from rebel hands.
Residents of Qusair, Syria salvage copies of the Quran from a mosque bombed by government forces on May 21, 2013. Members of the militant Shi’a Hezbollah in Lebanon have joined regime troops to retake the border town of Qusair from rebel hands.
David Arnold
Battle-hardened Hezbollah guerrillas from Lebanon may be turning the tide in the government’s favor as forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad besiege the rebel-held town of Qusair in western Syria.
 
The Syrian Arab News Agency said government forces had already recaptured the Dabaa air base just north of Qusair and were pressing their attacks on the town, which is 15 kilometers from the Lebanese frontier.
 
Rebel leaders estimated they have about 1,700 fighters defending Qusair and that between 4,000 and 7,000 Hezbollah guerrillas were leading the attack on the town with support of government air strikes and artillery bombardments.
 
“Mainly, there is Hezbollah,” said Rifaie Tammas, a Qusair resident who spoke with VOA via Skype as cannon and rocket fire thundered in the background. “These people came from Lebanon and they are more experienced than us, coming here on a holy mission.”
 
Hardened in battle against Israelis
 
Hezbollah, backed by Iran, honed its battlefield skills fighting Israeli incursions in southern Lebanon. Tammas said rebels were monitoring pro-government radio transmissions around Qusair and that most of the commands were being delivered in Lebanese-accented Arabic.
 
The government is anxious to recapture Qusair from the rebels because it has been a center of Sunni Muslim resistance to the Assad regime since 2011 and sits astride a key highway leading into Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley and on to Beirut. Under government control, Qusair could be a wedge between southern rebels and other rebel units controlling large areas in northern Syria.
 
Analysts say taking Qusair, a town of about 40,000, also would put the government in a stronger bargaining position if the United States and Russia are successful in starting peace talks to end the two-year rebellion.
 
Hezbollah, a long-time ally of the Assad regime, wants to keep it in power to maintain its supply lines to Iran.
 
Tammas said the Hezbollah fighters are much tougher than the Syrian Army regulars who tried to attack the town before them and are turning the tide of the battle in the government’s favor.
 
It’s ironic really, when you remember that five or six years ago during the war between Hezbollah and Israel, many of the men and women who we used to feed and house ... now they come to you to kill you and to slaughter.
“When we destroyed regime [regular Army] tanks, the regime soldiers ran away. They were sick and tired of serving,” he said. “But now it’s different. Destroy a tank and Hezbollah still fights.”
 
But Tammas noted bitterly that Qusair residents once gave Hezbollah fighters refuge and food when they were battling Israeli troops in southern Lebanon, and now have to face them as the enemy.
 
“It’s ironic really, when you remember that five or six years ago during the war between Hezbollah and Israel, many of the men and women who we used to feed and house, and who used to help and work in their houses and treated them like our brothers and sisters and family, and now they come to you to kill you and to slaughter,” Tammas said. “And they are coming here like they believe that we are wrong, that we are the bad boys.”
 
“I mean, they are coming with knives to kill children, everyone,” said Tammas, who taught English at a local school before it was closed.
 
Much of Qusair abandoned
 
Except for the rebel defenders, Tammas said much of Qusair is abandoned, with families taking refuge in nearby villages, refugee camps and in the open fields of surrounding farmlands. Those who stayed behind, including his own family, are hiding in basement shelters, he said.
 
“This is a ghost town,” he said, adding that even the daily anti-government rallies had come to an end.
 
General Salim Idriss, chief of the rebels’ Supreme Military Command, appealed for help from the West over British radio Thursday from another location in Syria.
 
“We are dying. Please come and help us,” Idriss said, noting that the Hezbollah fighters were leading the attacks on Qusair.
 
Without directly mentioning Hezbollah, the U.N. Human Rights Council on Wednesday condemned international interference in the Syrian conflict. Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, warned that the country is “spinning out of control” and that immediate action is needed to prevent further bloodshed.
 
Current estimates are that about 80,000 Syrians have died in the two-year civil war.

You May Like

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs