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.
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

Multimedia Brussels Schools, Metro Reopen Under Heavy Guard

City remains under the highest threat alert level due to what authorities have described as a 'serious and imminent' threat of attack

Video Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

Americans Think About Strange Stuff at Thanksgiving

Millions of Americans are celebrating Thanksgiving, but they’re not necessarily thinking about turkey and stuffing

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs