News / Middle East

Pro-Government Forces Deal Syrian Rebels Big Setback

Fighters and civilians loyal to the Assad government hold up the Syrian flag after capturing the strategic town of Qusair, June 5, 2013.
Fighters and civilians loyal to the Assad government hold up the Syrian flag after capturing the strategic town of Qusair, June 5, 2013.
Now that Syrian government troops and Hezbollah guerrillas have captured the strategic border town of Qusair from anti-government rebels, military experts and diplomats say there will almost certainly be a renewed government-led offensive on the northern city of Aleppo.
 
The rebels had held Qusair for more than a year in their overall struggle to topple the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Its loss to government forces represented a major blow to rebels, whose most effective fighting units, the al-Qaida-linked al-Nusra front, were defending the town.
 
Qusair, once a town of between 30,000 and 40,000 people, is 17 kilometers inside Syria on the main highway leading into Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley and on to Beirut. In the final days of fighting for the town, more than 2,000 Hezbollah fighters from the militant Lebanese Shia movement were re-directed to Aleppo instead of being sent to strengthen the assault on Qusair.
 
“We will continue our string of victories until we regain every inch of Syrian land,” the Syrian military command said in announcing Qusair’s capture.

The two-week-long battle for Qusair involved government air strikes, artillery bombardments and close-quarter fighting. It finally fell with an overnight Hezbollah ground assault that opened the way for Syrian government tanks to penetrate the north-side of the town where last rebels were holding out.
 
Hezbollah's al-Manar television channel in Beirut showed a fighter scaling a pockmarked clock tower in Qusair’s ruined central square to hoist a Syrian flag.
 
Hezbollah suffers heavy casualties

Hezbollah’s supporters in the Bekaa Valley greeted the image with relief. In recent weeks, the death toll of Hezbollah fighter had mounted, with a crescendo of “martyrdom” announcements on Hezbollah Facebook pages and websites.

There was even rare questioning of the movement’s leadership. Some families who had lost relatives in the battle even questioned the need for the Lebanese militia’s involvement in Syria.

But in Hezbollah-dominated southern Beirut, the movement’s supporters celebrated Qusair’s fall with with gunfire and fireworks.

The victory marked a significant Hezbollah victory over Jabhat al-Nusra, which had taken the lead in defending Qusair and which had sent in reinforcements from the eastern town of Raqaa.

In the propaganda battle, Sunni jihadists had claimed that Hezbollah fighters are more adept at the defensive tactics they learned from protecting Lebanese Shia villages. The Lebanese guerrillas were not so adept at offensive military operations, they said.
 
First full-scale Hezbollah-al-Nusra battle

But the retaking of Qusair, the first full-scale fight between Hezbollah and Al Nusra, went a little way in undermining that claim, according to a European military attaché based in Beirut.

“It is true that the rebels were outgunned, and they had to cope with heavy rocket attacks and air strikes, but Hezbollah acquitted itself well in Qusair, especially when they took over the fighting from the Syrian army – something the Israeli military will be studying.”

Qusair, SyriaQusair, Syria
x
Qusair, Syria
Qusair, Syria
The retaking of Qusair will make life much more difficult for the rebels in central Syria. The town was important for the rebels’ logistics and supply routes from Lebanon. With Qusair back in government hands, the Assad regime now has a clear corridor stretching from Damascus to the coastal strongholds of his minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shia Islam.

"Whoever controls Qusair controls the center of the country, and whoever controls the center of the country controls all of Syria," Syrian Brigadier General Yahya Suleiman said on Beirut-based Mayadeen television.

Qusair’s loss to the rebels can also be measured in terms of morale. Rebel leaders blamed the setback on being outgunned, arguing that they could have held on if they had been better equipped by their foreign backers in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and if the West wasn’t blocking them from receiving shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles.

In a statement, the rebels said they had to withdraw “in the face of this huge arsenal and lack supplies and the blatant intervention of Hezbollah.”
 
Rebel weaknesses exposed

Certainly the rebels could not match the massive firepower that the Syrian government brought to bear. Nonetheless, “at least seven rebel groups from across the country provided hundreds of reinforcements,” said Charles Lister, an analyst, at IHS Jane’s terrorism and insurgency center.

The loss of Qusair further exposes the lack of coordination between the various rebel groups and the absence of a firm command-and-control structure to the rebellion -- faults that have dogged the rebellion since its start more than two years ago.

In recent weeks, rebel disarray has allowed the Assad government to solidify recent gains on the ground – that in turn has tilted the military struggle in Assad’s favor.
Lister said he believes the rebels will “suffer from a loss of morale.” But “a seemingly imminent military offensive on Aleppo city may provide an invaluable distraction.”

So too might mounting reprisal attacks on Shia towns in eastern Lebanon. Before the fall of Qusair, General Selim Idriss, the military leader of the main rebel umbrella group, the Free Syrian Army, warned that his fighters were prepared to take the conflict inside Lebanon in pursuit of Hezbollah fighters. The Hezbollah fighters, he said, were “invading” Syria and Lebanon was doing nothing to stop them.

Qusair also is likely to impact the Obama administration and its efforts to get peace talks underway in Geneva.

U.S. and Russian officials met in Switzerland on Wednesday in an attempt to set the date for a peace conference. But who will attend, and when, still remains unclear.  The rebel themselves are not sure they will attend such a conference.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. and Arab League envoy to Syria, now says peace talks are unlikely to be held before July, adding that the lack of agreement on a date is “embarrassing.”

You May Like

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Researcher: Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor at Symposium on Obesity, Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome says problem involves more than calorie intake, warns of worldwide health impact More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thoughti
X
George Putic
May 26, 2015 9:26 PM
Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.

VOA Blogs