Syrian rebels threaten to target Shi'ite villages in Aleppo

BEIRUT Mon Jul 1, 2013 6:57pm EDT

1 of 9. A Free Syrian Army fighter gestures in front of the damaged Khalid bin al Walid Mosque in Homs June 30, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Yazan Homsy

BEIRUT (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.

(Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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Comments (19)
ReutersCheck wrote:
Nice job Barry. Your lack of credibility and influence in the middle east, Russia and now Europe and your corresponding lack of leadership even at home continues to cost lives while you feed your own narcissistic hunger for the appearance of political success. Shame on you. You are a coward and a sham of a President.

Jul 01, 2013 1:23am EDT  --  Report as abuse
ReutersCheck wrote:
Nice job Barry. Your lack of credibility and influence in the middle east, Russia and now Europe and your corresponding lack of leadership even at home continues to cost lives while you feed your own narcissistic hunger for the appearance of political success. Shame on you. You are a coward and a sham of a President.

Jul 01, 2013 1:23am EDT  --  Report as abuse
EMTbiker wrote:
Ever since the USS Cole and Mogadishu, every casualty of our American militaryhas been killed or wounded by a Sunni, wahabbi jihadist that has been sposored and financed by a Sunni oil prince from Qatar, Saudi arabia or Bahrain. The royal oligarchy/plutocracy of the Persian Gulf has aided these old men of the mountain of Alumet assassins. These Suni, wahabbi jihadist have kiled Shia, jews, Hindus, Christians, atheist in Mali, Nigeria, Darfur, India and throughout the world.
Is it because the decadent and indebted nations of NATO are so dependant upon the Sunni oil princes, international bankers and loans of Chinese free trade profits as a source to subsidize their Potemkin Village welfare states and appease the parasitic base of voters who feast from the tax money extorted from the productive or borrwed from these sheiks, Chinese communist leaders who lend back some of their free trade profits or the dual Israeli citizens who control most of the national banks, World Bank, IMF et al, that we are now vassals to Tel Aviv and subservient Janissaries to the Sunni-Saudi princes? Is part of the terms of buying treasuries a tacit support of these Sunni assassins and the expansion of the Sunni Caliphate and eradication of all Shia rivals like Libya and Iran?
God bless Vladimir Putin and assad for standing up against this triumvirate of evil

Jul 01, 2013 1:50am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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