News / Middle East

Lawlessness Spreading in Rebel-held Syria

Free Syrian Army fighters carry the body of their comrade who died during clashes with forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, in Qusair town near Homs, March 25, 2013.Free Syrian Army fighters carry the body of their comrade who died during clashes with forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, in Qusair town near Homs, March 25, 2013.
x
Free Syrian Army fighters carry the body of their comrade who died during clashes with forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, in Qusair town near Homs, March 25, 2013.
Free Syrian Army fighters carry the body of their comrade who died during clashes with forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, in Qusair town near Homs, March 25, 2013.
Public order is breaking down in rebel-held areas of Syria, with widespread looting, crime running rampant and rebel factions fighting among themselves, according to refugees escaping to Lebanon.
 
The refugees paint a bleak picture of mounting violence and lawlessness as civilians scramble to overcome shortages of food, water and fuel.

The looting and infighting among rebel units is adding to the misery of civilians who managed to survive during two years of civil war.  The United Nations estimates that more than 70,000 Syrians have been killed and millions more left homeless since the rebels began their insurrection to oust President Bashar al-Assad and his government.

“We couldn’t stay any longer,” says 34-year-old Samr, a mother of three from the Syrian city of Homs. “We had nothing and with the constant fear of air strikes, I just realized we had to leave.”

She and her children are now at least safe from air strikes and predatory thieves, but prospects for the family are far from good in the northern Lebanese town of Tripoli, where she lives with a dozen or so refugee families in a shell of an unfinished apartment building.
 
Lebanon under stress

Lebanon is straining to cope with a huge refugee influx that is stoking sectarian tensions in the country and has triggered sporadic fighting between Lebanese groups loyal to opposing sides in the Syrian civil war.

And the sporadic fighting in Lebanon is adding to the lawlessness across the border in Syria. In recent days, several clashes have been reported in northern and eastern Syria between fighters with the Jihadist Jabhat al-Nusra and militiamen from the Farouq Battalions. The Obama administration considers al-Nusra a terrorist organization because of links with al-Qaida.
 
On Sunday, March 26, fighting in the town of Tal Abyad on the border with Turkey left four people dead and the Farouq commander, Mohammad al Daher, severely wounded from a grenade blast.
 
Farouq commanders describe the feuding as between Jihadists and more secular-minded fighters, but other rebel commanders say the strife appears to be as much a power struggle over control of the lucrative border crossings into Turkey at Tal Abyad and Bab al Hawa. Both crossings are overseen by the Farouq Battalions.
 
Many of the Farouq fighters, especially those in northern brigades, have reputations for smuggling, looting and extortion. Civilians in villages in Idlib and Aleppo provinces spoke of their mistrust of Farouq fighters earlier this year to VOA, accusing them of corruption and robbery.
 
Hussein, a 45-year-old father of four from Tal Rifat, complained they failed to share war spoils from captured Syrian army bases. “They are out for themselves,” he said.

Commanders with other Free Syrian Army militias say that fighters from Farouq Battalions demand high payments for goods and weapons transported through their checkpoints.
 
Rebel infighting on the increase
 
Infighting among the rebel has been on the increase since Jihadists gunned down Farouq commander Thaer al-Waqqas in January.  Al-Nusra insisted it was not responsible for the killing, claiming another allied Jihadist group was and offered to broker a ceasefire.
 
Mounting disorder in the rebel-held territories poses serious challenges for Western and Gulf nations that have stepped up supplies and training for rebels and urging them to organize under a unified command.
 
Those efforts received a major setback last weekend when Mouaz al-Khatib, leader of a U.S. and Gulf-backed rebel coalition, abruptly resigned, citing what he said was insufficient international support of the opposition cause.
 
Opposition disarray
 
Disarray within the Syrian National Coalition increased shortly after Khatib’s resignation when the head of the rebel group’s own military branch, the Free Syrian Army, indicated he would not obey an interim prime minister elected at the insistence of Western and Gulf countries to oversee rebel-held territories in Syria.
 
Gen. Salim Idris said he would only recognize a prime minister able to represent a broad swathe of rebel groups.
 
But it isn’t clear who can do that as rifts between rebel groups widen over everything from territory and spoils of war to what kind of state should replace the Assad region – a strict Islamic state or a more secular one.
 
European diplomats based in Turkey warn that the divisions between rebel units on the ground in Syria and their disconnect with opposition politicians backed by the West and Gulf nations could seriously undermine the Syrian National Coalition.
 
“This isn’t looking good at the moment,” says one an Istanbul-based envoy.
 
Since the uprising against Assad erupted there have been several foreign-inspired bids to encourage the rebels to form “joint leaderships” and alliances. But so far, all those efforts have fizzled out, breaking down amid recriminations and disputes.

You May Like

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs