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

    Russian-speaking Muslim Exiles Fear Possible Russia-Turkey Thaw

    Exiled from Russia as Islamic radicals and extremists, thousands found asylum in Turkey

    US Presidential Election Ends at Conventions for Territorial Citizens

    Citizens of US territories like Guam or Puerto Rico enjoy participation in US political process but are denied right to vote for president

    UN Syria Envoy: 'Devil Is in the Details' of Russian Aleppo Proposal

    UN uncertain about the possible humanitarian impact of Russian proposal to establish escape corridors in Aleppo

    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.
    Philadelphia Uses DNC Spotlight to Profile Historic Role in Founding of United Statesi
    X
    July 28, 2016 2:16 AM
    The slogan of the Democratic National Convention now underway in Philadelphia is “Let’s Make History Again” which recognizes the role the city played in the foundation of the United States in the 18th century. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, local institutions are opening their doors in an effort to capitalize on the convention spotlight to draw visitors, and to offer more than just a history lesson.
    Video

    Video Philadelphia Uses DNC Spotlight to Profile Historic Role in Founding of United States

    The slogan of the Democratic National Convention now underway in Philadelphia is “Let’s Make History Again” which recognizes the role the city played in the foundation of the United States in the 18th century. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, local institutions are opening their doors in an effort to capitalize on the convention spotlight to draw visitors, and to offer more than just a history lesson.
    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 A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    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 First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    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.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora