News / Middle East

    Syrian Army Assault on Qalamoun Region Stalls

    A pro regime soldier aims a rocket launcher towards rebel locations in the Qalamoun region on the outskirts of the Syrian capital Damascus on February 13, 2014.
    A pro regime soldier aims a rocket launcher towards rebel locations in the Qalamoun region on the outskirts of the Syrian capital Damascus on February 13, 2014.
    A two-weeks-long Syrian army assault on the last major town held by rebels in the mountainous Qalamoun region along the Lebanese border is facing renewed resistance from insurgents, say opposition activists.

    Despite ferocious artillery bombardments and frequent airstrikes and the severing of supply lines, government forces assisted by fighters from Lebanon’s radical Shiite movement Hezbollah have been unable to overrun the town of Yabrud.

    Qalamoun is a highly strategic region 50 miles long and 25 miles broad stretching from the outskirts of the Syrian capital to the Lebanese border. Retaking Yabrud is key for Syrian government forces to interdict arms supplies from Lebanese Sunni backers of rebels battling to topple President Bashar al-Assad.

    Rebels commanders admit that the loss of Yabrud would be a major setback, and rebel fighters recuperating from wounds in the nearby Lebanese town of Arsal told VOA recently that defeat would be “disastrous” for their ability to maintain an insurgency in villages across Qalamoun.

    The fight is pitting some of the toughest elements on both sides of the civil war with clashes featuring Syrian paramilitary forces and Hezbollah fighters against battle-hardened rebel militias, including al-Qaida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and an al-Qaida offshoot the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, commonly known as ISIS.

    In an interview with VOA days before the battle for Yabrud started, a Hezbollah official, who declined to be named, said Lebanese Shiite fighters would not be in the vanguard of the assault on Yabrud but would “just have a logistics and intelligence role.” He added “it would not be like Qusair,” a reference to last year’s Hezbollah-led capture of another highly strategic town to the south of Yabrud that fell after a vicious siege and close-quarter combat.

    The fall of Qusair boosted Syrian army morale and ushered in a string of Assad battlefield gains that the rebels still have not managed to staunch. 

    But the battle for Yabrud has prolonged into a more dogged struggle than many analysts had forecast, and has drawn in Hezbollah to engage more than planned, claim rebel fighters, who have drawn reinforcements from rebel-held Damascus suburbs.

    Dueling claims over who has the edge in the battle prompted military analyst Aram Nerguizian of the Washington-based Center for Strategic & International Studies to caution: “It is only natural for either side of a conflict to portray an image of strength, purpose and imminent success. Both sides have adapted their tactics and feel they have the upper hand.”

    But he says the rebels are unlikely to be able to hold the town. “I am more skeptical about how the rebels can win out in the longer term. Their supply lines have thinned out while the regime and Hezbollah are both more secure and have momentum on their side, at least in the space between the Bekaa frontier and Damascus.”

    According to the UN more than 10,000 people have fled to Lebanon from Yabrud, adding to sectarian tensions in the Bekaa Valley and straining the resources of aid agencies. As with the battle for Qusair last year, the fight for Yabrud is spilling over into Lebanon with rebels firing off retaliatory Grad rockets at Shiite towns just over the border.

    Hezbollah has been especially eager to drive rebels from Yabrud because the town has played a role in a string of more than a dozen jihadist suicide bombings on Hezbollah strongholds in Lebanon. Hezbollah and Lebanese officials say several of the cars used in the bombings were stolen in Lebanon but rigged with explosives in Yabrud before being driven back across the border.

    The battle for Yabrud has triggered an online propaganda war in neighboring Lebanon. An anti-Hezbollah song written for the battle has been broadcast widely across the web. “The men of Qalamoun have prepared coffins for you,” the singer warns Hezbollah. “Party of Satan, we’ve had enough—we won’t retreat, no matter what.” The song’s purported lyricist, Marwan Dimashqiyyeh, a member of Lebanon’s Muslim Brotherhood branch, was found dead on February 25 inside his car in a town just to the north of Beirut. There was a gunshot wound to his head.

    Islamic League political leader Azzam al-Ayyoubi, a friend of the dead man, insists his death couldn’t have come from suicide.

    You May Like

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Before burial at overflowing cemeteries, unidentified dead being swapped for DNA, in case some day relatives come to learn their fate

    Russian Opposition Leader Sues Putin for Conflict of Interest

    Alexei Navalny tells VOA in exclusive interview why transfer of $2 billion from country’s wealth fund to company with ties to President Putin’s son-in-law triggered lawsuit

    How Diversity Has Changed America

    Over the past four decades, the level of diversity in the United States has increased most in these four states

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Anonymous
    March 02, 2014 1:22 PM
    How about the International community (minus putin) arrest bashar al assad. Then once assad is nicely seated in the Hague facing thousands of murder charges, putin can hire assad his own defence lawyer.

    Sounds good to me!!!
    In Response

    by: Anonymous
    March 03, 2014 5:19 AM
    With the recent behaviour of the russian government in Ukraine, now is the worlds chance to tell Russia, you better smarten up. Lets (We the world) get bashar behind bars at all costs for his crimes against humanity, and go after anyone that has assisted bashar in his systematic killings. That leads all the way to Russia. Why is the world turning a blind eye? I think once bashar is sentenced for his crimes, Putin will start to sweat bullets for his contributions. Anyone guilty of murdering thousands of civilians need to be held accountable otherwise it proves this is okay to do, and that anyone can get away with it.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Filli
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 11, 2016 8:01 PM
    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video US Co-ed Selective Service Plan Stirs Controversy

    Young women may soon be required to register with the U.S. Selective Service System, the U.S. government agency charged with implementing a draft in a national emergency. Top Army and Marine Corps commanders told the Senate Armed Services Committee recently that women should register, and a bill has been introduced in Congress requiring eligible women to sign up for the military draft. The issue is stirring some controversy, as VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from New York.
    Video

    Video Lessons Learned From Ebola Might Help Fight Zika

    Now that the Ebola epidemic has ended in West Africa, Zika has the world's focus. And, as Carol Pearson reports, health experts and governments are applying some of the lessons learned during the Ebola crisis in Africa to fight the Zika virus in Latin America and the Caribbean.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Illinois Voters Have Mixed Emotions on Obama’s Return to Springfield

    On the ninth anniversary of the launch of his quest for national office, President Barack Obama returned to Springfield, Illinois, to speak to the Illinois General Assembly, where he once served as state senator. His visit was met with mixed emotions by those with a front-row seat on his journey to the White House. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Heated Immigration Debate Limits Britain’s Refugee Response

    Compared to many other European states, Britain has agreed to accept a relatively small number of Syrian refugees. Just over a thousand have arrived so far -- and some are being resettled in remote corners of the country. Henry Ridgwell reports on why Britain’s response has lagged behind its neighbors.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.