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

    Candidates' Comments Fly Like New Hampshire Snowflakes

    Four days ahead of the country's first-in-the-nation Republican and Democratic party primary elections, surveys show the parties' contests tightening

    South Korea Says North Korea Moving Closer to Rocket Launch

    In phone call, US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping agree that Pyongyang's move would be 'provocative'

    Australian Commander: IS Changing Tactics

    Head of Australian forces in Middle East talks with VOA about training Iraqi troops, countering evolving Islamic State efforts and defeating extremism

    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.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.