News / Middle East

Syrian Army Seizes Strategic Town Near Capital

Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad carry their weapons as they move during what they said was an operation to push rebels from the road between Al-Safira area and Aleppo International Airport, Apr. 24, 2013.
Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad carry their weapons as they move during what they said was an operation to push rebels from the road between Al-Safira area and Aleppo International Airport, Apr. 24, 2013.
Reuters
Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad seized a strategic town east of Damascus on Wednesday, breaking a critical weapons supply route for the rebels, activists and fighters said.
    
Rebels have held several suburbs ringing the southern and eastern parts Damascus for months, but they have been struggling to maintain their positions against a ground offensive backed by fierce army shelling and air strikes in recent weeks.
    
“The disaster has struck, the army entered Otaiba. The regime has managed to turn off the weapons tap,” a fighter from the town told Reuters via Skype. “The price of a bullet will go from 50 Syrian pounds to 1,000 Syrian pounds [$10] now, but we must pay and retake it. It's the main if not the only route.”
    
Rebels said they pulled out of Otaiba, a gateway to the eastern rural suburbs of Damascus known as al-Ghouta, in the early hours after more than 37 days of fighting in which they accused the government of using chemical weapons against them twice.
    
The government has denied using chemical weapons and accused rebels in turn of firing them in Aleppo.
    
Rebels used Otaiba for eight months as their main supply route to Damascus for weapons brought in from the Jordanian border, where Saudi Arabia and other private donors are believed to be sending in arms.
    
Government forces pushed in with tanks and soldiers.
    
“Now all the villages will start falling one after another, the battle in Eastern Ghouta will be a war of attrition,” another fighter in the area said, speaking by Skype.
    
More than two years into their struggle to end four decades of Assad family rule, the rebels remain divided by struggles over ideology and fighting for power.
    
Rebels fighting in Otaiba said they sent a distress call to brigades in other parts of Ghouta but it went unanswered by other units with whom they compete for influence and weapons.
    
“To all mujahedeen [holy warriors]: If Otaiba falls, the whole of Eastern Ghouta will fall ... come and help,” part of the message sent to fighters said.
    
The army appears to have been advancing on fronts across Syria in recent weeks, even in northern provinces where rebels seized large swathes of territory.
    
Minaret collapses
    
Most critically, it has made gains around Damascus and the Lebanese-Syrian border - critical to linking the capital to coastal provinces that are Assad's stronghold.
    
The coast is an enclave of Assad's minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam. Alawites have dominated Syria's power structures during four decades of Assad family rule.
    
Rebels, mostly from the Sunni Muslim majority, have seized territory in northern and southern Syria, and hold about half of Aleppo, the country's biggest city. But Assad's forces have kept control of the capital Damascus and most major cities.
    
Elsewhere in Damascus, two mortar bombs hit the government-held suburb of Jaramana, killing seven and wounding more than 25, activists and state media said. State news agency SANA blamed the attack on “terrorists”, the term it commonly uses to describe Assad's armed opponents.
    
Some rebel units condemned the attack on Jaramana.
    
“Our brigade loudly condemns these criminal acts, which have nothing to do with Islam in any way,” the Saad bin Abada al-Khudraji brigade said.
    
Islamist rebel units said on Wednesday they had launched an offensive on the coastal province of Latakia, a move which could further stoke sectarian tensions in a war that has increasingly divided the country along religious and ethnic lines.
    
Islamist fighters said they had fired two rockets that hit the town of Qurdaha, the birthplace and burial site of Assad's father, Hafez al-Assad, who ruled Syria for 30 years. Residents in Latakia province who spoke to Reuters by Skype said the rockets hit outside Qurdaha, in a rural area called Slunfeh.
    
It is impossible to verify the account due to government restrictions on media access in Syria.
    
Moscow was flying more Russians home after delivering humanitarian aid to Latakia, the Emergencies Ministry said. It was one of several government flights laid on in the past months by Russia, a long-standing arms supplier to Damascus.
    
Unverified image from Youtube video allegedly showing rubble of minaret (background) of Aleppo's ancient Umayyad mosqueUnverified image from Youtube video allegedly showing rubble of minaret (background) of Aleppo's ancient Umayyad mosque
x
Unverified image from Youtube video allegedly showing rubble of minaret (background) of Aleppo's ancient Umayyad mosque
Unverified image from Youtube video allegedly showing rubble of minaret (background) of Aleppo's ancient Umayyad mosque
The conflict has cost more than 70,000 lives and has also damaged or destroyed many archaeological and architectural treasures, some of them U.N. world heritage sites, such as Aleppo's Old City where the mosque is located.
    
The 1,000-year-old minaret of Aleppo's Umayyad Mosque has collapsed due to clashes between Syrian rebels and Assad's forces, activists and state media said on Wednesday.
    
The opposing parties blamed the other for the toppling of the minaret, which predated the medieval-era mosque it stood in. Fighting has ravaged the Old City's stone-vaulted alleyways for months and had already reduced much of the mosque to rubble.
    
SANA accused the Nusra Front, an al-Qaida-linked rebel group, of bringing down the minaret. Opposition groups said army tank fire was to blame.

You May Like

Video Iran Nuclear Deal Becomes US Campaign Issue

Voters in three crucial battleground states - Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania - overwhelmingly oppose nuclear deal with Iran More

With IS in Coalition Cross-Hairs, al-Qaida's Syria Affiliate Reemerges

Jabhat al-Nusra has rebounded, increasingly casting itself as a critical player in battle for Syria’s future More

Lessons Learned From Katrina, 10 Years Later

FEMA chief Craig Fugate says key changes include better preparation, improved coordination among state, federal assistance agencies More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs