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

    California Republicans Mull Choices in Presidential Race

    Ted Cruz tells state's Republican Convention delegates campaign will be 'battle on the ground, district by district by district,' ahead of June 7 primary

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, many Kurds are trying to escape turmoil by focusing on success of football team Amedspor

    South African Company Designs Unique Solar Cooker

    Two-man team of solar power technologists introduces Sol4, hot plate that heats up so fast it’s like cooking with gas or electricity

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora