News / Middle East

    Scores Killed as Rebels Battle to Break Siege of Damascus Suburbs

    A Shi'ite fighter, fighting along forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, carries his weapon as he runs along a deserted street in Hujaira town, south of Damascus, Nov. 20, 2013.
    A Shi'ite fighter, fighting along forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, carries his weapon as he runs along a deserted street in Hujaira town, south of Damascus, Nov. 20, 2013.
    Reuters
    Fierce fighting to the east of Damascus has killed more than 160 people in the past two days as Syrian rebels struggle to break a months-long blockade by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, activists said on Sunday.

    It began on Friday when rebel units attacked a string of military checkpoints encircling the opposition-held suburbs in an area known as Eastern Ghouta, which has been under siege for more than six months.

    Local and international aid workers say Assad's forces appeared to be trying to starve out residents - indiscriminately affecting civilians as much as rebel fighters.

    The blockade has cut off rebels' weapons supplies and helped turn the tide of fighting around the capital in Assad's favor.

    The battle has also drawn in hundreds of foreign fighters on both sides, underlining how Syria's civil war has stirred Sunni-Shi'ite sectarian tensions across the region.

    “It is a ferocious fight between the two sides because it's a struggle over our ultimate fate here,” said Bara Abdelrahman, a media activist with the rebel Islam Army brigades in the area.

    The conflict in Syria has killed more than 100,000 people, according to the United Nations, and is also destabilizing Syria's neighbors.

    Foreign powers are trying to bring the warring sides together for a peace conference in Switzerland before the end of the year, dubbed 'Geneva 2.' On Sunday, Syria's peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi met with members of the opposition to discuss the talks, which many rebel groups have rejected without a clear guarantee that Assad will step down.

    Assad's government says it welcomes talks but will not accept any preconditions.

    Meanwhile, Assad's forces, emboldened by gains in central Syria in recent months, have been seizing back towns in the rebels' northern stronghold.

    Rebels advance in Ghouta

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebels had advanced in Eastern Ghouta in recent fighting, seizing some small villages and the once government-held town of Deir Attiya.

    Assad's forces responded with three air raids, it said.

    The mainly Sunni Muslim rebels have drawn support from radical Sunni groups such as al-Qaida and other foreign militants. Shi'ite governments and militias have thrown their weight behind Assad, who is from Syria's minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ism.

    Rebels say Lebanon's Shi'ite guerrilla movement Hezbollah has joined the Eastern Ghouta battle on Assad's side, as has the Abu Fadl al-Abbas Brigade, a militia that includes Shi'ite fighters from around the Middle East.

    The Britain-based Observatory, a pro-opposition group with a network of activists across Syria, said it had documented about 100 deaths on the rebel side on Friday and Saturday in Eastern Ghouta, and more than 60 among forces fighting for Assad.

    But it said there were likely to be more deaths that had not been documented.

    “This battle has been one of incredible human losses,” said Rami Abdelrahman, head of the Observatory. “The fighting is spreading all over the eastern suburbs.”

    There was no comment on casualty figures from government spokesmen.

    The United States, which backs the opposition, and Russia, Assad's main arms supplier, have been pushing for peace talks but a major sticking point has been the role of Shi'ite power Iran, Assad's main ally.

    Opposition forces fear a deal curbing Tehran's nuclear program will lead Washington to ease pressure on Iran and Assad in Syria.

    Brahimi held separate talks with Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva in the past two days but did not meet U.S. Secretary of State John Jerry as expected.

    The envoy is to host talks in Geneva on Monday between U.S. Undersecretary Wendy Sherman and Russia's deputy foreign ministers, Mikhail Bogdanov and Gennady Gatilov.

    You May Like

    Vietnam Mulls Tough Measures for ‘Misbehaving’ Chinese Tourists

    Move comes after footage surfaced online of Chinese travelers harassing a banana hawker in Da Nang

    The Complicated Math of AIDS

    A lot, and then some: the huge - and complicated - cost of the AIDS epidemic

    Pakistan Social Media Star's Honor Killing Fuels Debate

    Qandeel Baloch's murder puts spotlight on deadly tradition and other mistreatment of women

    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.
    Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Borderi
    X
    July 22, 2016 12:30 AM
    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.
    Video

    Video Number of Syrian Refugees Arriving in US Jumps

    The United States is committed to resettling 85,000 refugees from around the world by October. Of that number, 10,000 will come from Syria and already some 4,000 Syrian refugees have arrived in the United States, many of them settling in the state of Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from Chicago, their arrival is not the end of a difficult journey to find peace and stability.
    Video

    Video Rio’s Trams Await Olympic Tourists

    Over the past century, many cities around the world replaced electric trams, prone to breakdowns and backups, with faster and more spacious buses. But for some reason restored antique trams are a huge tourist attraction. So it’s no wonder the authorities in Rio de Janeiro are busy restoring their city’s old tram line ahead of the Summer Olympic Games. VOA’ George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora