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)
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    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.
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    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.

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    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?

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