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

Photogallery US Nurse ‘Cured of Ebola,’ NIH Says

Nina Pham, Texas nurse who treated first Ebola patient in US, received no experimental drugs; WHO expects vaccine surge in 2015 More

Video Islamic State Militants Encroach on Baghdad

Iraqi capital not under ‘imminent threat,’ US military says, amid worries about foothold More

Video Hong Kong Protesters Focus on Holding Volatile Mong Kok

Activists say holding Mong Kok is key to their movement's success, despite confrontations with angry residents and police More

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.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid