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

    Top US General: Turkish Media Report ‘Absurd'

    General Dunford rejects ‘irresponsible' claims of coup involvement by former four-star Army General Campbell, who led NATO forces in Afghanistan before retiring earlier this year

    Video Saving Ethiopian Children Thought to Be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at efforts of one African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children

    Protests Over Western Troops Threaten Libyan 'Unity' Government

    Fears mount that Islamist foes of ‘unity' government plan to declare a revolutionaries' council in Tripoli

    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.
    London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunitiesi
    X
    VOA News
    July 25, 2016 5:09 PM
    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Four Brother Goats Arrive in Brooklyn on a Mission

    While it's unusual to see farm animals in cities, it's become familiar for residents of Brooklyn, New York, to see a little herd of goats. Unlike gas-powered mowing equipment, goats remove invasive weeds quietly and without adding more pollution to the air. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this is a pilot program and if it proves to be successful, the goat gardener program will be extended to other areas of New York. Faith Lapidus narrates.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora