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

Pundits Split Over Long-Term US Role in Afghanistan

Security pact remains condition for American presence beyond 2014; deadline criticized More

US Eyes Islamic State Threat

Officials warn that IS could pose a threat to US homeland More

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Moscow says Russian troops crossed into Ukrainian territory by mistake More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocksi
X
George Putic
August 25, 2014 4:00 PM
How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that were eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where one band is bringing Yiddish tango to an American audience.
Video

Video Peace Returns to Ferguson as Community Tries to Heal

Thousands of people nationwide are expected to attend funeral services Monday in the U.S. Midwestern city of St. Louis, Missouri, for Michael Brown, the unarmed African-American teenager who was fatally shot by a white police officer August 9 in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. The shooting touched off days of violent demonstrations there, resulting in more than 100 arrests. VOA's Chris Simkins reports from Ferguson where the community is trying to move on after weeks of racial tension.
Video

Video Meeting in Minsk May Hinge on Putin Story

The presidents of Russia and Ukraine are expected to meet face-to-face Tuesday in Minsk, along with European leaders, for talks on the situation in Ukraine. Political analysts say the much welcomed dialogue could help bring an end to months of deadly clashes between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian forces in the country's southeast. But much depends on the actions of one man, Russian President Vladimir Putin. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Artists Shun Russia's Profanity Law

Russia in July enacted a law threatening fines for publicly displayed profanity in media, films, literature, music and theater. The restriction, the toughest since the Soviet era, aims to protect the Russian language and culture and has been welcomed by those who say cursing is getting out of control. But many artists reject the move as a patronizing and ineffective act of censorship in line with a string of conservative morality laws. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video British Fighters on Frontline of ISIS Information War

Security services are racing to identify the Islamic State militant who beheaded U.S. journalist James Foley in Syria. The murderer spoke English on camera with a British accent. It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for the Islamic State, also called ISIL or ISIS, alongside thousands of other foreign jihadists. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from the center of the investigation in London.

AppleAndroid