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

US Imposes Sanctions on Alleged Honduran Drug Gang

Treasury department alleges Los Valles group is responsible for smuggling tens of thousands of kilograms of cocaine into US each month More

At 91, Marvel Creator Stan Lee Continues to Expand his Universe

Company's chief emeritus hopes to interest new generation of children in superheroes of all shapes and sizes by publishing content across multiple media platforms More

Photogallery New Drug Protects Against Virus in Ebola Family

Study by researchers at University of Texas Medical Branch, Tekmira Pharmaceuticals is first looking at drug's effectiveness after onset of symptoms More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebolai
X
George Putic
August 20, 2014 8:57 PM
While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls For Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid