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

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Video Secret Service Chief Under Fire for White House Security Breach

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after recent intrusion at White House, says: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus More

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.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid