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

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor warns of obesity’s worldwide health impact 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.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
X
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs