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

    Hope Remains for Rio Olympic Games, Despite Woes

    Facing a host of problems, Rio prepares for holding the games but experts say some risks, like Zika, may not be as grave as initially thought

    IS Use of Social Media to Recruit, Radicalize Still a Top Threat to US

    Despite military gains against IS in Iraq and Syria, their internet propaganda still commands an audience; US officials see 'the most complex challenge that the federal government and industry face'

    ‘Time Is Now’ to Save Africa’s Animals From Poachers, Activist Says

    During Zimbabwe visit, African Wildlife Foundation President Kaddu Sebunya says poaching hurts Africa as slave trade once did

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Ivorian Chocolate Makers Promote Locally-made Chocolatei
    X
    July 29, 2016 4:02 PM
    Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa but hardly any of it is processed into chocolate there. Instead, the cocoa is sent abroad to chocolate makers in Europe and elsewhere. This is a general problem throughout Africa – massive exports of raw materials but few finished goods. As Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, several Ivorian entrepreneurs are working to change that formula - 100 percent Ivorian chocolate bar at a time.
    Video

    Video Ivorian Chocolate Makers Promote Locally-made Chocolate

    Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa but hardly any of it is processed into chocolate there. Instead, the cocoa is sent abroad to chocolate makers in Europe and elsewhere. This is a general problem throughout Africa – massive exports of raw materials but few finished goods. As Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, several Ivorian entrepreneurs are working to change that formula - 100 percent Ivorian chocolate bar at a time.
    Video

    Video Tesla Opens Battery-Producing Gigafactory

    Two years after starting to produce electric cars, U.S. car maker Tesla Motors has opened the first part of its huge battery manufacturing plant, which will eventually cover more than a square kilometer. Situated close to Reno, Nevada, the so-called Gigafactory will eventually produce more lithium-ion batteries than were made worldwide in 2013. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Polio-affected Afghan Student Fulfilling Her Dreams in America

    Afghanistan is one of only two countries in the world where children still get infected by polio. The other is Pakistan. Mahbooba Akhtarzada who is from Afghanistan, was disabled by polio, but has managed to overcome the obstacles caused by this crippling disease. VOA's Zheela Nasari caught up with Akhtarzada and brings us this report narrated by Bronwyn Benito.
    Video

    Video Hillary Clinton Promises to Build a 'Better Tomorrow'

    Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton urged voters Thursday not to give in to the politics of fear. She vowed to unite the country and move it forward if elected in November. Clinton formally accepted the Democratic Party's nomination at its national convention in Philadelphia. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more.
    Video

    Video Trump Tones Down Praise for Russia

    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is toning down his compliments for Russia and Vladimir Putin as such rhetoric got him in trouble recently. After calling on Russia to find 30.000 missing emails from rival Hillary Clinton, Trump told reporters he doesn't know Putin and never called him a great leader, just one who's better than President Barack Obama. Putin has welcomed Trump's overtures, but, as Zlatica Hoke reports, ordinary Russians say they are not putting much faith in Trump.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora