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

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. More

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

Dropout rate at an all-time high in South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during 3-year civil war More

Tennessee Songbirds Fly Coop Long Before Tornadoes Arrive

Researchers say birds apparently alerted to danger by sounds at frequencies below range of human hearing 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.
US: Response to Sony Hack Will Be Proportionali
X
Aru Pande
December 19, 2014 1:45 AM
The White House says President Barack Obama considers the cyberattack on Sony Corp. a serious national security matter and that the U.S. will counter with an "appropriate response." VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video US: Response to Sony Hack Will Be Proportional

The White House says President Barack Obama considers the cyberattack on Sony Corp. a serious national security matter and that the U.S. will counter with an "appropriate response." VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid