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

African States Push to Keep Boko Haram Offline

Central African telecoms ministers working with Nigeria to block all videos posted by Boko Haram in effort to blunt Nigerian militant group's propaganda More

Falling Oil Prices, Internet-Savvy Youth Pose Challenge for Gulf Monarchies

Across the Gulf, younger generations are putting a strain on traditional politics More

Philippines Call Center Workers Face Challenges

Country has world’s largest business process outsourcing, or BPO, industry, employing some one-million workers More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More