News / Middle East

    Ferocious Battle Underway Over Syrian Border City

    Security forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad take part in a field exercise at an undisclosed location. (SANA via Reuters)Security forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad take part in a field exercise at an undisclosed location. (SANA via Reuters)
    x
    Security forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad take part in a field exercise at an undisclosed location. (SANA via Reuters)
    Security forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad take part in a field exercise at an undisclosed location. (SANA via Reuters)
    A ferocious battle is underway in the Syrian city of Qusair near the border with Lebanon between government forces bolstered by Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas and anti-government rebels led by militiamen linked to al-Qaida, according to anti-government activists.


    Government warplanes carried out several bombing raids on Qusair throughout Wednesday and Hezbollah rushed in reinforcements in an attempt to dislodge the rebels from Qusair, a strategic city on the main highway into central Lebanon, through the Bekaa Valley and on to Beirut.

    Members of Hezbollah have become key battleground allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Both follow the Shiite sect of Islam and both are closely allied with Shiite Iran. Most of the rebels are Sunnis.

    Clashes between Hezbollah and rebel forces led by Al Qaeda-linked fighters belonging to the Jabhat al-Nusra raged in many districts of Qusair. The bloodiest battles were centered in the northern districts of the city, where Hezbollah militiamen have been unable to dislodge Syrian rebels. Anti-government activists said the rebels had made headway in pushing back Hezbollah on the west side of the city.

    Hezbollah spokesman Ibrahim Moussawi conceded that the north of Qusair was proving the hardest to subdue. “It is very hard and difficult to take. There are snipers everywhere. This will cost us but we'll take it,” Moussawi said.

    Reports of chemical attacks

    The see-saw battle over Qusair came as claims mounted of Syrian government forces using chemical weapons in the outskirts of Damascus, this time in the suburb of Jobar about two kilometers northeast of the old city walls. Reporters from the French newspaper Le Monde witnessed the after-effects of what they and rebels with the Tahrir al-Sham ('Liberation of Syria') brigade believe were gas attacks launched by government troops over several days this week.

     

    We thought it was a mortar that didn't explode, and no one really paid attention to it,” Omar Haidar, the brigade’s chief of operations, told the newspaper. “No odor, no smoke, not even a whistle to indicate the release of a toxic gas. And then the symptoms appear. The men cough violently. Their eyes burn, their pupils shrink, their vision blurs. Soon they experience difficulty breathing.”

     

    The Assad government has denied using any chemical weapons. A few weeks ago, the government traded accusations over reports of the use of a chemical weapon in the northwest of the city of Aleppo that killed more than 20 people and wounded another 80, with each side blaming the other for the attack.

    In December, U.S. President Barack Obama warned that any use of chemical weapons would be “totally unacceptable” and a “red line” that could trigger Western intervention.

     

    US red line on chemical weapons

     

    The Obama administration told Congress last month that U.S. intelligence agencies had assessed “with varying degrees of confidence” that Syria has used small amounts of chemical weapons in the conflict. But the U.S. president said he needed more conclusive evidence.

     

    The British Foreign Office released a statement Wednesday saying, “The U.K. is extremely concerned about the ongoing allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria.” British officials confirmed they have provided more information to a United Nations inquiry team that the Assad government has prevented from entering Syria to investigate on the ground.

     

    French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius reacted to the Le Monde report even more sharply. In a radio interview, Fabius warned of a “severe reaction” if chemical weapons had been used by Syrian government forces. Asked what “severe” meant, Fabius said: “It’s the final stage before a strike.”


    Tests on samples brought from Syria by French reporters will take nearly a month to analyze, according to French Foreign Ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot.

    The ferocity of the fighting in Qusair reflected the strategic significance of the city. Analysts believe Qusair would be crucial for Assad if he and his allies were forced to try to form an enclave near the coast north and east of Lebanon.

     

    But Syrian rebel sources and their overseas supporters say the timing of the attacks on Qusair may have more to do with the Assad government maneuvering ahead of proposed peace talks next month that have been endorsed by both the U.S. and Russia.

    Maneuvering for peace talks

    He’s determined to grab back as much lost ground as he can,” says Brian Sayers of the Syrian Support Group, a U.S.-based group that supports the rebellion and advocates for a democratic Syria.

    The fight involving artillery bombardments and air strikes has for the first time brought Hezbollah in large-scale confrontation with Sunni Muslim fighters from the al-Nusra front, many of whose fighters have come from other Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries.

    Rebel sources told VOA that al-Nusra fighters are taking the lead for the rebels on many fronts in Syria. Likewise, they claim that there are few Syrian government forces now in the fight. “We are fighting Hezbollah,” one of the sources said in a Skype call.

    Supporters and relatives of Hezbollah members attend the funeral of a Hezbollah fighter who died in the Syrian conflict in Ouzai in Beirut May 26, 2013.Supporters and relatives of Hezbollah members attend the funeral of a Hezbollah fighter who died in the Syrian conflict in Ouzai in Beirut May 26, 2013.
    x
    Supporters and relatives of Hezbollah members attend the funeral of a Hezbollah fighter who died in the Syrian conflict in Ouzai in Beirut May 26, 2013.
    Supporters and relatives of Hezbollah members attend the funeral of a Hezbollah fighter who died in the Syrian conflict in Ouzai in Beirut May 26, 2013.
    But the battle in Qusair is taking its toll on Hezbollah. The last few days have seen an increasing number of “martyrdom announcements” for fallen Hezbollah fighters from the Lebanese Shia movement.


    A military analyst at the U.S. Department of Defense told VOA that Hezbollah leaders may have been surprised by the stiff resistance they have faced.


    I think only now are they appreciating what effective and experienced fighters they are facing,” the U.S. analyst said. “Many of the Hezbollah fighters have been trained for defensive actions against Israel and are not so used to offensive tactics.”

    Trained in defense or not, Hezbollah is sending in more fighters into Qusair and further afield, according to Syrian opposition sources. Khaled Saleh, a spokesman for the Syrian National Coalition, said Hezbollah operations are now stretching to the outskirts of Damascus.

    Something very dangerous is happening: the Hezbollah militia has begun to move into the outskirts of Damascus. This is a new development that we did not expect,” Saleh said.

    You May Like

    Top US General: Turkish Media Report ‘Absurd'

    General Dunford rejects ‘irresponsible' claims of coup involvement by former four-star Army General Campbell, who led NATO forces in Afghanistan before retiring earlier this year

    Video Saving Ethiopian Children Thought to Be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at efforts of one African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children

    Protests Over Western Troops Threaten Libyan 'Unity' Government

    Fears mount that Islamist foes of ‘unity' government plan to declare a revolutionaries' council in Tripoli

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: MUSTAFA from: INDIA
    May 30, 2013 1:53 AM
    West and Gulf created this problem at the cost of so many lives for what just to CHANGE regime. They want an ideal Govt who is Double Master in taking dictation like other Gulf countries. Gulf countries are very much cautious about the mood of West but never bother whether GOD will be happy or angree by their acts. I am sorry to say I cannot solve Syrian problem but I can pray to GOD to save Syria from so many devil and their Children.

    by: la mano from: usa
    May 30, 2013 1:16 AM
    let's hope the politicians keep paying lip service to peace, while the fighting goes on forever. they can blame israel and america all they want, that's an old song. the more these people kill one another, the less they kill americans and our allies.

    let's all sing (to the tune of "people who love people"): arabs/ arabs killing arabs/ are the loveliest arabs in the world.

    by: D J Cee from: The free west
    May 30, 2013 12:45 AM
    Good luck all you survivors. the fat McDonald eating westerners don't appreciate what you are dealing with. If it wasn't obvious yet now by this article you should see that Syria is the new Vietnam. Hezbolah? Radical yet fooled because they fight for the western far right producing chaos. the rebels, liberals in the east and west. All of them ultimately pawns. We all want freedom. I hope there is a leader of all nations but in that humans are inherently like sheep I will not hold my breath. Pray for the souls of those warriors lost inthis conflict who fight for what they believe in and their PAWNS WHO FIGHT FOR FOOD AND CELL PHONES. GENERALS JOIN MY ARMY.

    by: zvi18 from: USA
    May 30, 2013 12:40 AM
    Here's why we just completely lost our influence in the Middle East - an unnamed US Defense Analyst claims Hezbollah is only trained in defense. Either this analyst is a moron or an anti-Semite. Hezbollah has 25,000 rockets pointed at Israeli families. That's defensive? The war they had with Israel was started by them crossing into Israel. That's being defensive? Now Syria will have Russian S-300 missiles that will eliminate us from enforcing a no fly zone if we chose to help stop civilians from being slaughtered.

    The S-300s would shoot down our planes. This also makes Israel's air defenses impossible. What a mess we have created and now I know why. Weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Hezbollah being a weak defensive force.... I can only wonder what other nonsense has come from these folks. We had two years to address Syria, we did nothing. Now Russia is running the show.... I just don't think the Obama Doctrine of leading from behind is helping anyone. Our world seems to be more dangerous today than at any time I can remember. A sad state of affairs to say the least.

    by: Elza Pato from: USA
    May 29, 2013 11:41 PM
    "Anti-government rebels led by militiamen linked to al-Qaida" I thought we called these terrorist in America?

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunitiesi
    X
    VOA News
    July 25, 2016 5:09 PM
    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    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 Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Four Brother Goats Arrive in Brooklyn on a Mission

    While it's unusual to see farm animals in cities, it's become familiar for residents of Brooklyn, New York, to see a little herd of goats. Unlike gas-powered mowing equipment, goats remove invasive weeds quietly and without adding more pollution to the air. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this is a pilot program and if it proves to be successful, the goat gardener program will be extended to other areas of New York. Faith Lapidus narrates.
    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 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 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.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora