News / Middle East

    Syrian Rebels Threaten to Target Shi'ite Villages in Aleppo

    FILE -  Free Syrian Army fighter, Bashar al Hajji, points towards the besieged Shi'ite village of Zahra in Aleppo, Oct. 17, 2012.
    FILE - Free Syrian Army fighter, Bashar al Hajji, points towards the besieged Shi'ite village of Zahra in Aleppo, Oct. 17, 2012.
    Reuters
    Syrian rebels in the northern province of Aleppo on Monday threatened to seize two Shi'ite Muslim villages that back President Bashar al-Assad unless they surrendered to the opposition.
     
    Activists say both Nubl and Zahra villages had been reinforced by Assad's allies in the increasingly sectarian war, among them fighters from Iran and Lebanon's powerful Shi'ite guerrilla group, Hezbollah.
     
    “We announce our intention to liberate Nubl and Zahra from the regime and its shabbiha (pro-Assad militia), and from the Hezbollah and Iranian elements,” the rebels said in an Internet video.
     
    The 27-month-old conflict, which pits mostly Sunni insurgents against Assad, from an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, has already killed more than 100,000 people and driven 1.7 million Syrians to seek refuge in neighboring countries.
     
    Assad's forces, spearheaded by Hezbollah, have made a number of gains since they seized the border town of Qusair last month. There have also been heavy clashes in Aleppo and surrounding districts, fuelling expectations that Assad aims to re-establish control of Syria's largest city.
     
    On Sunday rebels shot down a helicopter close to Nubl, which activists said had been carrying supplies to the villages. Authorities in Damascus said they were taking Education Ministry employees to supervise school exams. Seven employees and the helicopter crew were killed, they said.
     
    A video released by activists a few weeks earlier showed an army officer apparently recruiting Shi'ite villagers in Zahra and Nubl to form fighting units to support the army against the rebels.
     
    “Prevent a Single Drop of Blood”

    “In order to prevent a single drop of blood from being spilled and to find a peaceful solution, we have set the following conditions,” the video statement by the rebels said.
     
    Among the demands were the surrender of Assad's forces and their weapons, followed by a power sharing deal between the locals and the rebels.
     
    “If there is no response [to rebel demands for surrender] there will be a major military operation on those two villages,” the statement said.
     
    The sectarian nature of the conflict has set regional Sunni Muslim powers - notably Gulf Arab states and Turkey - against Assad's Shi'ite Iranian and Hezbollah allies in a deepening proxy war on Syrian soil.
     
    Deputy U.S. Secretary of State William Burns, speaking at the end of a visit to neighboring Lebanon, condemned Hezbollah's military intervention in Syria.
     
    “Despite its membership in the Lebanese government, Hezbollah has decided to put its own interests and those of its foreign backers above those of the Lebanese people,” Burns said. “We condemn in the strongest terms Hezbollah's actions in Syria. They ... stand in direct violation of Lebanon's disassociation policy [from Syria] and place the future of Lebanon at risk.”
     
    Hezbollah's role in Syria, along with Sunni Islamist fighters smuggled over the border to fight for the Syrian rebels, has exacerbated sectarian tensions in Lebanon which is still scarred by its own 1975-1990 civil war.
     
    Fighting has broken out in the Mediterranean cities of Tripoli and Sidon, while rockets have been fired at a Hezbollah district of southern Beirut and in the Bekaa Valley.
     
    Saudi Arabia, which has accelerated armed support for the rebels according to Gulf sources, urged the European Union on Monday to arm Syrian rebels without delay.
     
    Riyadh and its partners in the Gulf Cooperation Council also called on the United Nations Security Council to meet to prevent a massacre in the central city of Homs, where Assad's forces have been waging an assault on rebel-held districts.
     
    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported heavy army bombardment and clashes with rebel fighters for a third day in the contested city, which sits on an axis connecting Damascus to the heartland of Assad's minority Alawite sect in the hills overlooking the Mediterranean.
     
    It said neither side appeared to be gaining any ground.

    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

    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

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    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.