News / Middle East

    Syria Fighting Rages, More Chemical Attacks Reported

    A photo distributed by Syria's national news agency SANA, May 22, 2013, shows detainees described by SANA as "terrorists fighters", a term commonly used to describe rebels fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad, Qusair, near Homs.
    A photo distributed by Syria's national news agency SANA, May 22, 2013, shows detainees described by SANA as "terrorists fighters", a term commonly used to describe rebels fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad, Qusair, near Homs.
    Reuters
    Heavy fighting raged around the strategic Syrian border town of Qusair and the capital Damascus on Monday and further reports surfaced of chemical weapons attacks by President Bashar al-Assad's forces on rebel areas.
     
    The Syrian military pounded eastern suburbs of Damascus with air strikes and artillery and loud explosions echoed around al-Nabak, 80 km (50 miles) north of the capital, where fighting has cut the highway running north to the central city of Homs, the pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights group said.
     
    • A boy sells juice near a damaged bus in Aleppo's Bustan al-Qasr neighborhood, May 30, 2013.
    • Free Syrian Army fighters hold weapons at their post in Aleppo's Bustan al-Qasr neighborhood, May 29, 2013.
    • Buildings that were damaged during clashes between forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and Free Syrian Army fighters, near the Sayeda Zainab area of Damascus, May 29, 2013.
    • Relatives visit a grave at the Shi'ite fighters cemetery in Damascus, May 28, 2013.
    • Shi'ite fighters ride through the Sayeda Zainab area of Damascus with their weapons, May 28, 2013.
    • The inside of a damaged mosque in Dahra Abd Rabbo village, Aleppo, May 27, 2013.
    • U.S. Senator John McCain meets with U.S. troops in southern Turkey, May 27, 2013.  He also visited rebels inside Syria.  This picture was released on his Twitter account.
    • Syrians participate in the funeral prayer for Youssef Ghazi al-Sarmani, who was killed in fighting between rebel and government forces, May 27. The logo in red reads "Talbiseh".
    • A boy makes pastry at a shop in Darkush town, Idlib province, May 26, 2013.
    • A group of men smuggle diesel fuel from Syria to Turkey hoping to sell it at a higher price, across the Al-Assi River in Idlib, May 26, 2013.
    • Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad during clashes against Syrian rebels in Aleppo, May 26, 2013.
    • Supporters and relatives of Hezbollah members attend the funeral of a Hezbollah fighter who died in the Syrian conflict. The funeral took place in the Ouzai district in Beirut, May 26, 2013.
    • A Free Syrian Army fighter feeds pigeons in Homs, May 26, 2013.

    Government offensives in recent weeks are widely seen as a campaign to strengthen Assad's negotiating position before a proposed international peace conference sponsored by the United States and Russia and planned for next month.
     
    Opposition activists said Syrian troops backed by Lebanese Hezbollah fighters were pressing a sustained assault on Qusair, a town long used by insurgents as a way station for arms and other supplies from Lebanon.
     
    For Assad, Qusair is a crucial link between Damascus and loyalist strongholds on the Mediterranean coast. Recapturing the town, in central Homs province, could also sever connections between rebel-held areas in the north and south of Syria.
     
    Each side gave conflicting accounts of the fighting.
     
    The Homs branch of the National Defense Forces, formed of pro-Assad militiamen, said on its Facebook page that government forces had now divided Qusair into four sectors and had made major gains in all but the one that includes the town center.
     
    “All of the mercenaries' supply routes were cut off completely,” it said, referring to the rebels.
     
    Islamist rebel groups, including the Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham, said they had sent reinforcements to Qusair. But one opposition activist said these were stuck on the outskirts and had yet to link up with the town's defenders.
     
    “So far they are just fighting and dying, their assault hasn't resulted in much yet, unfortunately,” the activist said.
     
    Rebels posted a video of fighters in what they said was central Qusair.
     
    “We will keep fighting to the last man here who can say 'there is no god but God',” one insurgent said.
     
    Hezbollah's deepening involvement in Qusair has raised the prospect of renewed civil war in neighboring Lebanon, where two rockets hit the Shi'ite Muslim movement's stronghold in south Beirut on Sunday and one was fired from south Lebanon towards Israel.
     
    The rockets struck hours after Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah promised that his anti-Israel guerrillas, fighting alongside Assad's forces, would win whatever the cost.
     
    A Lebanese security source said another 107mm rocket, which did not go off, had been aimed at Beirut airport. The launch sites were near Aitat, in the hills just south of the capital.
     
    U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon voiced “deep concern” at Hezbollah's admitted combat role and the risk that the Syrian conflict will spill into Lebanon and other neighboring states.
     
    ‘Chemical attack’ affects dozens
     
    The U.S.-Russian initiative so far appears only to have intensified the violence, especially around Qusair and Damascus.
     
    In Harasta, an eastern Damascus suburb largely under rebel control, dozens of people were afflicted by respiratory difficulties after an apparent overnight chemical attack, according to opposition sources. Video showed victims lying on the floor of a room, breathing from oxygen masks.
     
    The sides in the conflict, now in its third year, have accused each other of using chemical weapons. France's Le Monde newspaper published first-hand accounts on Monday of apparent chemical attacks by Assad's forces in April.
     
    The newspaper said one of its photographers had suffered blurred vision and breathing problems for four days after an attack on April 13 on the Jobar front, in central Damascus.
     
    Another video from Harasta overnight showed at least two fighters being put into a van, their eyes watering and struggling to breathe while medics put tubes into their throats.
     
    It was not possible to verify the videos independently.
     
    Syria, which is not a member of the anti-chemical weapons convention, is believed to have one of the world's last remaining stockpiles of undeclared chemical arms.
     
    French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters in Brussels there was “increasingly strong evidence of localized use of chemical weapons” in Syria and said Paris would consult its partners on what action ought to be taken.
     
    He was in the Belgian capital for a meeting of European Union foreign ministers who discussed calls from Britain and France to ease an EU embargo on arming Syrian rebels.
     
    All EU sanctions on Syria could collapse unless the 27-nation bloc agrees on the fate of the arms embargo before it expires on Saturday, but several EU members oppose any change.
     
    British Foreign Secretary William Hague signaled that his country was ready to see EU sanctions lapse rather than retreat from his demand to expand support for rebels.
     
    Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger, whose country provides U.N. observers posted between Syrian and Israeli forces on the Golan Heights, opposed any arming of rebels, saying the EU should remain a “peace community”.
     
    Opposition disarray
     
    The U.S.-Russian initiative provides the first slim hope in almost a year for a diplomatic end to a conflict that has cost more than 80,000 lives and caused a refugee exodus that the U.N. refugee agency expects to top 3.5 million by the end of 2013.
     
    China, which along with Russia, has three times blocked U.N. Security Council action on Syria, said on Monday it would join the proposed talks and would push all concerned towards peace.
     
    Damascus has indicated it will take part in the talks, but the fractured opposition, which has previously required Assad's exit to be guaranteed before any negotiations, has yet to lay out its position and remains mired in internal quarrels.
     
    The opposition crisis deepened on Monday when liberals were offered only token representation, undermining international efforts to lend the Islamist-dominated alliance greater support.
     
    To the dismay of envoys of Western and Arab nations monitoring four days of opposition talks in Istanbul, the 60-member Syrian National Coalition thwarted a deal to admit a liberal bloc headed by opposition campaigner Michel Kilo.
     
    The failure to broaden the coalition, in which a Qatari-backed bloc influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood is prominent, could sap Saudi support for the revolt.
     
    The coalition's Western backers had wanted more seats for liberals, an idea backed by Saudi Arabia, which had been uneasy about Qatar's rising influence, coalition insiders said.
     
    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov were due to meet in Paris later on Monday to discuss the conference they want to hold in Geneva in June.

    You May Like

    Video Democrats Clinton, Kaine Offer 'Very Different Vision' Than Trump

    In a jab at Trump, Clinton says her team wants to 'build bridges, not walls'; Obama Hails Kaine's record; Trump calls Kaine a 'job-killer'

    Turkey Wants Pakistan to Close Down institutions, Businesses Linked to Gulen

    Thousands of Pakistani students are enrolled in Gulen's commercial network of around two dozen institutions operating in Pakistan for over two decades

    AU Passport A Work in Progress

    Who will get the passport and what the benefits are still need to be worked out

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora