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

Hezbollah Chief Says Does Not Want War But Ready for One

VOA's Jerusalem correspondent reports that with an Israeli election looming and Hezbollah's involvement in Syria, neither side appears interested in a wider conflict More

Multimedia VOA SPECIAL REPORT: Despite Danger, Best US Minds Battle Deadly Virus

Scientists at America's premier biological research center race to find effective drugs, speedier tests and a safe vaccine amid the deadliest outbreak of Ebola in history More

Kurdish Poet Battles to Defend Language, Culture

Kawa Nemir's work is an example of what he sees as an irreversible cultural and political assertiveness among Kurds in Turkey More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unresti
X
Heather Murdock
January 30, 2015 8:00 PM
Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Mobile Infrared Scanners May Help Homeowners Save Energy

Mobile photo scanners have been successfully employed for navigational purposes, such as Google Maps. Now, a group of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says the same technology could help homeowners better insulate their houses and save some money. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.

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

All About America

AppleAndroid