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

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years 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.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs