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

    US, Somalia Launch New Chapter in Relations

    US sends first ambassador to Somalia in 25 years; diplomatic presence and forces pulled out in 1993, after 18 US soldiers were killed when militiamen shot down military helicopter

    Brexit Vote Ripples Across South Asia

    Experts say exit is likely to have far-reaching economic, political and social implications for a region with deep historic ties to Britain

    Russian Military Tests Readiness With Snap Inspections

    Some observers see surprise drill as tit-for-tat response to NATO’s recent multinational military exercises in Baltic region

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Testing Bamboo as Building Materiali
    X
    June 27, 2016 9:06 PM
    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video New York Pride March A Celebration of Life, Mourning of Loss

    At this year’s march in New York marking the end of pride week, a record-breaking crowd of LGBT activists and allies marched down Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, in what will be long remembered as a powerful display of solidarity and remembrance for the 49 victims killed two weeks ago in an Orlando gay nightclub.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapides’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora