News / Middle East

    Syrian Army Launches Air Assault on Homs

    Buildings damaged by what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Al-Khalidiya neighbourhood, Homs June 28, 2013.
    Buildings damaged by what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Al-Khalidiya neighbourhood, Homs June 28, 2013.
    Reuters
    Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces launched a major offensive on Saturday against rebels in Homs, a center of the two-year-old uprising, in their latest drive to secure an axis connecting Damascus to the Mediterranean.
     
    Activists said jets and mortars had pounded rebel-held areas of the city that have been under siege by Assad's troops for a year, and soldiers fought battles with rebel fighters in several districts.
     
    "Government forces are trying to storm [Homs] from all fronts," said an activist using the name Abu Mohammad.
     
    There were no immediate details of casualties but video footage uploaded by activists showed heavy explosions and white clouds of smoke rising from what they said were rebel districts. Loud, concentrated rounds of gunfire could also be heard.
     
    One clip showed thick black smoke rising from a mosque identified as the 13th-century Khalid ibn al-Walid mosque, on the edge of the Khalidiyah neighborhood.
     
    Syrian state media said the army was "achieving great progress" in Khalidiyah but the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-Assad monitoring group, said there were reports that rebels had destroyed an army tank as troops tried to penetrate the Old City in the center of Homs.
     
    The attack on Homs follows steady military gains by Assad's forces, backed by Lebanese Hezbollah militants, in villages in Homs province and towns close to the Lebanese border.
     
    Three weeks ago Hezbollah spearheaded Assad's recapture of the border town of Qusair, a former rebel bridgehead for smuggling in guns and fighters. Last week the rebels lost another border town, Tel Kalakh.
     
    Those gains have consolidated Assad's control over a corridor of territory that runs from the capital Damascus through Homs to the traditional heartland of his minority Alawite sect in the mountains overlooking the Mediterranean.
     
    They have also alarmed international supporters of the rebels, leading the United States to announce that it will step up military support. Saudi Arabia has accelerated deliveries of sophisticated weaponry, Gulf sources say.
     
    Deraa victory
    The interventions by Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia, a staunch backer of the mainly Sunni rebels, and Shi'ite Hezbollah highlight how the 27-month-old uprising has divided the Middle East along sectarian lines.
     
    Gulf Arab States, Turkey and Egypt all support the rebels while Shi'ite Iran and Hezbollah are actively helping Assad whose Alawite community — an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam — has dominated Syria for more than four decades.
     
    Sunni Islamist fighters from countries across the Middle East have also flocked to Syria, fighting for the rebels in a war that has killed more than 100,000 people, driven 1.7 million refugees abroad and displaced another 4 million within Syria's borders.

     
    Hopes of holding a U.S. and Russian-backed peace conference have faded, with rebels reluctant to negotiate while they are on the defensive militarily and tensions between Moscow and Washington exacerbating their deep differences over Syria.
     
    The violence has spilled over frontiers and stirred sectarian violence in neighboring Iraq and Lebanon. Two people were killed in Lebanon's northern city of Tripoli on Saturday, one in an explosion and another in sniper fire between the Alawite district of Jebel Mohsen and adjacent Sunni areas.
     
    Despite losing ground around Damascus and Homs, rebels registered a symbolic victory on Friday when they overran a major military checkpoint in Deraa, the southern city where the uprising first erupted.
     
    Rami Abdulrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory, said the fall of the army post was strategically significant and could change the balance of power in Deraa, where rebels control most of the old city.
     
    The province of Deraa, on the border with Jordan, has been a conduit for arms supplies to the rebels.

    You May Like

    Clinton, Trump and the 'Woman’s Card'

    Ask supporters of Democratic front-runner in US presidential campaign, and they’ll tell you Republican presidential candidate is playing a dangerous hand

    Russian Censorship Group Seeks Chinese Help to Better Control Internet

    At recent Safe Internet League forum in Moscow, speakers from both nations underscored desire for authorities to further limit and control information online

    Video Makeshift Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Free classes in Islamabad park serve a few of the country’s nearly 25 million out-of-school youths; NGO cites ‘education crisis’

    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