News / Middle East

Syrian Rebels Face Pressure on Multiple Fronts

Civilians and Free Syrian Army fighters look into the sky at a site hit by what activists said are barrel bombs dropped by government forces in Aleppo on November 28, 2013.Civilians and Free Syrian Army fighters look into the sky at a site hit by what activists said are barrel bombs dropped by government forces in Aleppo on November 28, 2013.
x
Civilians and Free Syrian Army fighters look into the sky at a site hit by what activists said are barrel bombs dropped by government forces in Aleppo on November 28, 2013.
Civilians and Free Syrian Army fighters look into the sky at a site hit by what activists said are barrel bombs dropped by government forces in Aleppo on November 28, 2013.
Syrian rebels battling to oust President Bashar al-Assad are now facing determined government military offensives on three fronts in the north and west and along an arc of suburbs running south to east around the capital of Damascus. The offensives are stretching rebel forces and triggering more factional infighting and recriminations between their commanders, say analysts.
 
The most threatening offensive is unfolding around Aleppo, the country’s largest city, which has been divided between government forces and rebels for more than a year.
 
After a long stalemate in which little territory changed hands in Aleppo, once Syria’s commercial hub, rebels are now being pressed on the eastern approaches to the city following the capture last month by Assad forces of the strategic outlying towns of Tel Hasel, Tel Arn and, most importantly, Safira, which sits astride a junction of key roads and was being used as a base by Al Qaeda affiliated jihadists.
 
Assad forces are now focusing aerial attacks on two rebel-held Aleppo districts, Halwaniyeh and Karam el-Beik, causing “heavy civilian casualties”, according to Rami Abdelrahman, the head of the pro-opposition monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Right.
 
Syrian helicopters have increased also the tempo of attacks on the town of Al-Bab, northeast of Aleppo, dropping so-called barrel bombs – explosive-filled oil barrels—killing more than 50 people, mostly civilians.
 
Rebels fighting in Aleppo have long used Al-Bab as a holding area for both men and supplies. The airstrikes and barrel-bomb attacks appear to be indiscriminate and fail to distinguish between military targets and non-combatants, allege activists. 
 
“The attacks are targeting civilian neighborhoods,” says Al-Bab resident Barry Abdul Latif.
 
With airstrikes mounting and ground activity by Assad forces increasing, rebel militia commanders have declared an emergency in Aleppo and called on all rebels to help defend their half of the city.  Among their fears, says Jonathan Schanzer, a Syria expert with the Washington DC-based think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies, is defections from their own ranks.
 
“I would not be surprised to see a spike in defectors,” he says. He believes the prospects of scheduled peace talks in Geneva next month that have been opposed by militia leaders, and the decision by the Obama administration not to mount punitive strikes on Assad forces in retaliation for the alleged use of chemical weapons have sapped morale in rebel ranks.
 
“The Geneva deal, not to mention the subsequent revelation of back channel diplomacy that impacted Obama’s decision to not strike Syria, have had a devastating impact on the morale of the opposition. It would therefore not be surprising to see some of the fighters, despite their utter distaste for Assad, begin to hedge their bets,” he says.
 
There is suspicion within the rebel ranks that the airstrike that killed noted rebel commander, Abdulkader al-Saleh, the head of the Islamist Liwan al-Tawhid brigade, came about because of intelligence passed on by either fifth columnists or defectors. The airstrike, which also took out several other senior figures in the brigade, was precise. His loss is a serious blow to the rebels – al-Saleh was a key figure in unifying Islamist brigades in 2012 and organizing the capture of several Aleppo suburbs.
 
“At a time when the Syrian regime is advancing on Aleppo, Saleh’s death therefore is very bad news for the opposition,” Aron Lund, an independent Syria expert, noted in the influential blog Syria Comment. “Even if the front holds, Tawhid could be drained of cohesion, and end up losing sub-units and fighters to other groups.” 
 
Militia leaders in Aleppo aren’t the only ones issuing a rallying cry for reinforcements. To the west of the capital of Damascus, Assad forces backed by fighters from Hezbollah launched what is likely to be a prolonged battle for the mountainous territory of Al-Qalamoun—a rugged region between the Syrian capital and Homs, the country’s third largest city.
 
Diplomats and analysts say the struggle for Al-Qalamoun is second only to the struggle for Aleppo in terms of military significance.  It’s also of similar importance to last spring’s battle over Qusair, a strategic town in sight of Lebanon.  Qusair was retaken by the Syrian army thanks to assistance from Hezbollah fighters, who were in the vanguard of the assault on the border town.
 
The Al-Qalamoun region is seen as vital both by Syrian forces and the rebels. Controlling Al-Qalamoun would allow the Assad regime to secure land links between Damascus and Homs and interdict arms supplies from the rebels’ Lebanese Sunni supporters coming through the border around the town of Arsal.
 
For the regime, consolidating its hold on Homs is a priority, as it represents a central link between Syria’s interior cities and the Mediterranean coast north of Latakia, a stronghold of the Syrian President’s minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shia Islam.
 
Lebanese officials and Western diplomats worry that Lebanon won’t be left unscathed in a prolonged battle for Al-Qalamoun.
 
“This isn’t going to be a two-week battle like Qusair,” says a British military adviser to the Lebanese army. “The region is mountainous and the offensive will extend into the spring and there’ll be more chance of violent spillover into Lebanon.”
 
Last week, the Syrian military in the region sustained a setback when jihadists overran the Christian town of Deir Attiya, taking advantage of confusion prompted by twin suicide bomb attacks in the nearby town of Nabak. But according to a Syrian military statement “units from the army managed to defeat terrorist groups which had infiltrated Deir Attiya” during the weekend.

You May Like

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

China to Open Stock Markets to Pension Funds

In unprecedented move, government to soon allow local pension funds to invest up to $94 billion in domestic shares More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Sunny Enwerem from: Nigeria
December 03, 2013 11:57 PM
So sad President Obama's move to work with the regime over their chemical weapon issue/possession has embolden the killer Assad to fight on harder knowing with Russia and Iran behind him, the international criminal court will only bark at Assad but if it were an African country thesame jobless developed nation will start crying out,their will be no peace talk over Syria till the last commander is killed or injured from both sides,FSA were never truly backed by the west because by all indications playing out they were simply used to ferment a conflict to grind Syria to a total destruction and rebuilding without Assad.

by: Igor from: Russia
December 03, 2013 11:22 PM
To minimize civilian casualty, the international communities should provide Syrian government with more advanced and up-to-date weapons like those of the USA and Israel. So only the terrorist rebels will be killed. During the Vietnam war, the USA killed countless Vietnamese innocent people including children and women because they did not care if their targets were innocent or not. Now with more advanced weapons, the USA in turn criticize others for killing innocent people.

by: Anonymous
December 03, 2013 7:48 PM
Its a no win for bashar regardless what happens because he will have to face not only the Syrian Nation but also the world for his crimes he has commited. Bashar ultimately will end up having to face the crimes by the international community. You can't murder that many civilians and 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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs