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 Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

There is growing uncertainty over whether West’s response to ISIS is adequate More

China Crackdown on Dual Citizens Causes Concern

New policy encourages reporting people who obtain citizenship in another country, but retain Chinese citizenship; move spurs sharp debate More

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

Losing ground to Islamic State fighters, Syria's government says it is ready to cooperate with international community More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?i
X
Henry Ridgwell
August 29, 2014 12:26 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Pachyderms Play Polo to Raise Money for Elephants

Polo, the ancient team competition typically played on horseback, is known as the “sport of kings.” However, the royal version for one annual event in Thailand swaps the horse for the kingdom’s national symbol - the elephant. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Samut Prakan reports that the King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament is all for a good cause.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid