News / Middle East

Elite Syrian Army Units Besiege Rebel Districts, Activists Say

Members of the Free Syrian Army are seen deployed in al-Bayada, Homs, February 29, 2012.
Members of the Free Syrian Army are seen deployed in al-Bayada, Homs, February 29, 2012.

Syrian security forces have launched a ground assault on the besieged city of Homs, in an attempt to overrun rebel-held districts that have endured nearly a month of bombardment.

Activists said Wednesday that elite Fourth Armored Division units under the command of President Bashar al-Assad's brother, Maher, were engaged in pitched battles with the rebel Free Syrian Army just outside the opposition Baba Amr and al-Inshaat neighborhoods.

A Syrian official vowed Baba Amr would be "cleansed" within hours. But an activist in the district told VOA via Skype that rebel lines have held.

The activist, who uses the pseudonym Abo Emad, said he had witnessed 16 government soldiers and six tank crews defect to the opposition Wednesday morning. He said rebel army sources told him more desertions were taking place as troops enter the city and blend in with the local population.

Abo Emad also said both regular army forces and pro-government Shabiha militia were raiding houses in Homs' wealthy al-Inshaat neighborhood, stealing personal effects and setting fire to the targeted homes.

VOA cannot independently confirm opposition or government reports.

Battles rage

Activist Selim Qabbani told Alhurra TV from Homs that government forces are making small advances in an intense battle.

Qabbani says the Syrian armed forces are attacking the area with rockets, mortar rounds and tank shells. He says that the humanitarian situation in Baba Amr is dire, with casualties numbering in the hundreds and a lack of medical supplies to treat the wounded.

Activists say that water, electricity and communications have been cut off. They say batteries used  to power satellite telephones are running low and that the government is scrambling communications to keep news from reaching outsiders.

Activist Hadi Abdallah told al Arabiya TV from Homs that people are frightened, and that many fear there will be a massacre if there is no international help.

Witnesses in the town of Rastan, north of Homs, say their town is also under siege and being shelled heavily, as conditions deteriorate.  Opposition videos showed a number of casualties from the shelling.  Rastan is a mainly Sunni Muslim town that once supplied the Syrian Army with many of its officers.

Journalists trapped

At least three Western journalists remain trapped in Baba Amr, although Syrian activists smuggled British photographer Paul Conroy to safety in neighboring Lebanon Tuesday in an escape during which some of his rescuers were killed.

Activists said troops also entered the central town of Halfaya in Hama province after five days of intense shelling. They said the rebel-held town of Rastan, just north of Homs, was shelled and that casualties were reported.

U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said Syria has turned down her repeated requests to visit the country in order to assess the growing crisis. Diplomats said Damascus has delayed the visit despite efforts by Russia, Mr. Assad's closest international ally, to back Amos.

The move came as Kofi Annan, the newly appointed United Nations-Arab League envoy for Syria, said he will discuss the situation Wednesday with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and member states in New York. He will then go to Cairo for talks with Arab League head Nabil Elaraby.

Syrian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Jihad Makdissi told a press conference in Damascus that the Syrian government has asked the U.N. to provide details about a possible Annan stop in Syria.

The U.N. says more than 7,500 people have been killed in the 11 months of violence. Syrian officials blame the uprising on foreign-backed armed "terrorists" whom the government says have killed more than 2,000 security personnel.

Attacks draw world attention

Analyst Nadim Shehadi of Chatham House in London says that the focus on military operations across Syria has turned the attention of the outside world away from the wider aims of the almost year-old popular protest movement.

"It looks like we are being dragged into following -- minute by minute, hour by hour -- a battle, which will convince us in the end that this is no longer a peaceful protest against the government, but it is a kind of a civil war or a military insurgency, and this in a way is what the Syrian government, what the regime, wants us to believe.”

Shehadi says the Syrian government has been working to turn an anti-government protest into a military conflict because it has "no defense against a non-violent protest movement and refuses to address the core demands of the opposition."

Libya said Wednesday it will donate $100 million in humanitarian assistance to the Syrian opposition and allow them to open an office in Tripoli. Last October, Libya's new government became one of the first countries to recognize the Syrian National Council as the legitimate authority in Syria.

Journalists remain trapped


Mark Snowiss

Mark Snowiss is a Washington D.C.-based multimedia reporter.  He has written and edited for various media outlets including Pacifica and NPR affiliates in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @msnowiss and on Google Plus

You May Like

Republican Majority in Congress Off to Rough Start

Standoff over Homeland Security funding exposes philosophical, tactical problems within party More

Pakistan Blocks Baloch Activist from US Trip

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan slams Islamabad officials for stopping people from leaving country to attend human rights conference More

Video Muslims Long Thrived in North Carolina Before Students Killed

Idyll shattered February 10, when three Muslim university students living in Chapel Hill were gunned down by a neighbor More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Sierra Leone Ebola Orphans Face Another Crisisi
X
March 06, 2015 12:28 AM
There's growing concern about the future of an orphanage run by a British charity in Sierra Leone, after a staff member and his wife died this week from Ebola. The Saint George Foundation Orphanage in Freetown is now in quarantine, with more than 20 children and seven staff in lock-down. The BBC has agreed to share Ebola-related material with Voice of America because of the difficulties faced by media organizations reporting the crisis. Clive Myrie reports from Sierra Leone.
Video

Video Sierra Leone Ebola Orphans Face Another Crisis

There's growing concern about the future of an orphanage run by a British charity in Sierra Leone, after a staff member and his wife died this week from Ebola. The Saint George Foundation Orphanage in Freetown is now in quarantine, with more than 20 children and seven staff in lock-down. The BBC has agreed to share Ebola-related material with Voice of America because of the difficulties faced by media organizations reporting the crisis. Clive Myrie reports from Sierra Leone.
Video

Video Growing Concerns Over Whether Myanmar’s Next Elections Will Be Fair

Myanmar has scheduled national elections for November that are also expected to include a landmark referendum on the country's constitution. But there are growing concerns over whether the government is taking the necessary steps to prepare for a free and fair vote. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman was recently in Myanmar and files this report from our Southeast Asia bureau in Bangkok.
Video

Video Nigeria’s Ogonis Divided Over Resuming Oil Production

More than two decades ago, Nigeria’s Ogoni people forced Shell oil company to cease drilling on their land, saying it was polluting the environment. Now, some Ogonis say it’s time for the oil to flow once again. Chris Stein reports from Kegbara Dere, Nigeria.
Video

Video Winter Weather Strikes Eastern US...Again!

A new wintry blast has hit more than 20 states in the U.S. Midwest and Mid-Atlantic region, adding more snow to the piles from previous storms. Tired of shoveling snow, breaking the ice and dealing with accidents, flight delays and property damage, most Americans hope this is the last bout of cold for the season. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Muslims Long Thrived in N Carolina Before Slaying of 3 Students

The killings of three Muslim students in North Carolina early last month came as Muslims across the United States have felt under siege, partly as a result of terrorist attacks being committed internationally in the name of their faith. But Muslims have long thrived in university cities in this part of the American South. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Fuel Shortages in Nigeria Threaten Election Campaigns

Nigeria is suffering a gas shortage as the falling oil price has affected the country’s ability to import and distribute refined fuels. Coming just weeks before scheduled March 28 elections, the shortage could have a big impact on the campaign, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA.
Video

Video Report: Human Rights in Annexed Crimea Deteriorating

A new report by Freedom House and the Atlantic Council of the United States says the human rights situation in Crimea has deteriorated since the peninsula was annexed by Russia in March of last year. The report says the new authorities in Crimea are discriminating against minorities, suppressing freedom of expression, and forcing residents to assume Russian citizenship or leave. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video 50 Years Later African-Americans See New Voting Rights Battles Ahead

Thousands of people will gather to mark the 50th anniversary of a historic civil rights march on March 7th in Selma, Alabama. In 1965, dozens of people were seriously injured during the event known as “Bloody Sunday,” after police attacked African-American demonstrators demanding voting rights. VOA’s Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights pioneers who are still fighting for voting rights in Alabama more than 50 years later.
Video

Video Craft Brewers Taking Hold in US Beer Market

Since the 1950’s, the U.S. beer industry has been dominated by a handful of huge breweries. But in recent years, the rapid rise of small craft breweries has changed the American market and, arguably, the way people drink beer. VOA’s Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.
Video

Video Myanmar's Traditional Fashion Choices Endure

The sartorial choices of Myanmar’s men and women quickly catch the eye of any visitor to the tropical Southeast Asian country. But at a time when Myanmar’s political and economic opening is bringing affordable western fashions to the masses, will the country’s unique fashion trends endure? VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Yangon explores that question.

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