Syrian rebels threaten to target Shi'ite villages in Aleppo

BEIRUT Tue Jul 2, 2013 10:11am 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 (4)
lex_70 wrote:
“Father Francois Murad, member of the Catholic Franciscan order, was publically beheaded by Syrian rebels, the Vatican news agency has confirmed. Rebels believed to be linked to the jihadist group al-Nusra Front stormed the convent in the Gassanieh area in the north of Syria and murdered the priest on June 23. Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the head of Franciscans in the area said Syria had become a battleground and decried the war as “absurd” and “shameful.”"

Jul 02, 2013 6:28am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Inspired43 wrote:
Reuters, NATO(US, France, UK, Turkey), Saudi, Qatar, Egypt all support these devilish rebels…..Why do they support these rebels? Is it for democracy? NO…because world’s worst dictators are supporting them.

If they think it is sectarian, then why are they supporting one sect (sunni) against another? They have not supported 65% majority shias in Bahrian against their Sunni khalifa’s oppression just because US has they fifth fleet in Bahrain…and the khalifa is their puppet dog.

Why support a sect which openly says that it will kill civilian shias most of them might be innocent women and children? Why support those who are killing minorities (beheading them openly) like father francios (http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/353508)….Why support those who are eating desecrating graves of holy men , who are eating liver of opponents. They are now being supported by providing weapons.

How can America be so Hypocrite. Just because Hezbollah resists the land grabber Israel, it was labeled a terrorist organization. Even though Hezbollah is a respected political party in Lebanon and it doesn’t act like these rebels. Have you ever heard of Hezbollah killing, raping, beheading, eating liver. Never!

US fought Taliban which according to them shielded or harbored Al Qaida. Now I heard they are having peace talks with them. When they wanted peace with Taliban then why did they support Karzai. Isn’t it a disrespect to thosands of Americans who died in a fake war when OBL was not even found in Afghanistan (he was found in Abbotabad Pakistan). Didn’t the world see how these Taliban tried to kill a small girl who promoted education for girls. How can they have peace talks with a terrorist group and don’t have any peace talks with a nation like Iran, which has never started a war against any country and who has their own democratically elected government. Does the world not see that America likes arming, supporting and talking to terrorists. Does the world not see that America loves being friends with oppressors like Saudi and Israel.

I hope one day during my lifetime people rise up and do justice by removing all the hypocrites.

Jul 02, 2013 9:46am EDT  --  Report as abuse
lex_70 wrote:
@Inspired

I think it important to acknowledge no self respecting Sunni would associate themselves with these Wahhabi Terrorists. These are not holy men, they are bloodthirsty mercenaries. in fact I understand a large number of the Syrian Arab Army are actually Sunni’s fighting to defend their secular homeland.

Jul 02, 2013 11:02am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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