News / Middle East

Syrian Army Fights for Road Needed to Remove Chemical Weapons

Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad hold their weapon as they stand near a tank inTel Hasel, Aleppo province after capturing it from rebels, Nov. 15, 2013.
Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad hold their weapon as they stand near a tank inTel Hasel, Aleppo province after capturing it from rebels, Nov. 15, 2013.
Reuters
Syrian forces went on the offensive on Saturday against rebels positioned along a major highway linking the capital with the coast, rebels said, a strategic road that is likely to be used to extract chemical weapons from the country.
 
The road passes through the mountainous area of Qalamoun, roughly 50 km (30 miles) north of Damascus, a region that stretches along the Lebanese border and is one of Syria's most heavily militarized districts.
 
Captain Islam Alloush, spokesman for the Army of Islam, the largest alliance of rebel groups in the capital, said that fighting was intense in the small highway town of Qara.
 
“There are a large number of our fighters stationed along the road,” he said.
 
Diplomats say Syrian authorities have identified the road north from Damascus towards Homs and the coast as the preferred route to transport chemical agents under a U.S.-Russian accord to eliminate them from the country's protracted civil war.
 
Although the army and civilians use the highway, parts of it go near rebel-held areas and convoys are prone to ambushes. The authorities have asked for equipment to help secure convoys.
 
Observers expect the next big battle in Syria to center on the Qalamoun area, causing a huge exodus of refugees and stirring up anger in nearby Lebanon as Shi'ite Lebanese Hezbollah fighters take part in the fighting.
 
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group that uses a network of pro- and anti-Assad sources, said the fighting in Qara and the nearby town of Nabek was “a sign that the operation in Qalamoun has started.”
 
Observatory head Rami Abdelrahman said that Hezbollah militants were mobilizing on Saturday to fight in Qalamoun.
 
United Nations refugee agency spokeswoman Dana Sleiman said there were reports from the Lebanese side of the border that 600-800 refugee families had arrived from Qara at the Lebanese border village of Al-Qaa, escaping the offensive.

Still time
 
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on Friday night adopted a step-by-step plan to get rid of 1,300 tons of Syria's sarin, mustard gas and other agents.
 
The Damascus spokeswoman for the joint OPCW-UN chemical weapons team, Sausan Ghosheh, said the mission would not disclose what route it would use to extract the chemicals but said the “the Syrian authorities have developed a security plan for the transportation of these materials.”
 
Faced with the threat of U.S. missile strikes, Assad in September agreed to destroy his entire chemical weapons stockpile following a sarin gas attack that killed hundreds of people in Damascus on August 21.
 
Washington said only Assad's forces could have carried out the attack, a charge the Syrian leader denied.
 
But the mission hit a snag on Friday when Albania rejected a U.S. request to host the destruction of the most critical chemical in Syria's arsenal.
 
Ghosheh said that although the deadlines are tight, Albania's decision should not immediately delay the destruction program, which started in October.
 
“There are still steps on the group to be taken,” she said.
 
She said the team was now training Syrian personnel on how to package and handle the chemical agents safely.
 
After 2-1/2 years of war, which started when Assad's forces fired on pro-democracy protests, the fighting has settled into a broad stalemate in which more than 100 are killed every day.
 
More than 100,000 have died since the start of the conflict, the United Nations says, and millions more are displaced.

You May Like

UN Watchdog Urges Israel to Probe Possible Gaza War Crimes

More than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed in a 51-day war in Gaza, along with 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel More

New Kenyan 'Thin SIMs' Poised to Transform African Mobile Money

Equity's new technology is approved in African nation for one-year trial, though industry leader Safaricom says thin SIMs could lead to data theft and fraud More

Solar's Future Looks Brighter

New technology and dropping prices are contributing to a surge in solar power More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid