Syrian war becomes religious conflict
Hezbollah fighters joined Syrian forces in battling rebels in a Damascus suburb — home to a revered Shiite Muslim shrine — in a push to secure the area around the ornate, golden-domed mosque.
Protection of the Sayida Zeinab shrine has become a rallying cry for Shiite fighters backing President Bashar Assad, raising the stakes in a conflict that is increasingly being fought along sectarian lines.
Fighting south of the capital is part of a wider military offensive by Assad's forces to recapture suburbs held by rebels and areas in the country's strategic heartland. Activists said violent clashes, coupled with heavy artillery bombardment of southern suburbs, reverberated in Damascus.
Syria's war is increasingly pitting Sunni against Shiite Muslims and threatening the stability of Syria's neighbors.
The main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, warned of an impending humanitarian disaster. It said regime forces, backed by Hezbollah and Iraqi Shiite fighters and dozens of tanks and armored vehicles, were besieging the area. It said tens of thousands of civilians are under heavy bombardment.
“Civilians in this area live in grim fear and anxiety, with no electricity and no way to escape from the anticipated large-scale massacre that often follows these types of regime attacks,” a statement issued by the group said.
The international community has been largely unable to end Syria's civil war, now in its third year, which has killed 93,000 people, and likely many more, according to the United Nations.
Assad draws his support largely from Syria's minorities, including fellow Alawites, or followers of an offshoot of Shiite Islam, as well as Christians and Shiites. He is backed by Shiite Iran and Hezbollah, a Shiite militant group based in neighboring Lebanon. Most rebels are Sunni, as are their patrons Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. They have been joined by thousands of Sunni foreign fighters from the Muslim world.
The area surrounding the Sayida Zeinab suburb, about 10 miles south of Damascus, has seen fighting before. But the regime forces and Hezbollah fighters launched an intensified assault there on Monday, according to Rami Abdul-Rahman, the director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The assault appears aimed at decisively pushing rebels back and securing the suburb, home to the shrine of Sayida Zeinab, the Prophet Muhammad's granddaughter. Before the war, the shrine attracted tens of thousands of Shiite pilgrims from around the world. Last year, rebels kidnapped Iranian pilgrims visiting the area, accusing them of being spies. The pilgrims were later released.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Chinese jet buzzes Navy aircraft, Pentagon says
- Russia sends unauthorized convoy into Ukraine
- Witnesses recount secret July raid to free journalist at ISIS base in Syria
- Interpol probes Thailand’s ‘Baby Factory’
- Ebola spreads in Nigeria; Liberian treatment centers inundated
- Ukraine: Russian aid convoy is a ‘direct invasion’
- 18 accused spies executed by Gaza terrorists
- Gaza militants kill 18 alleged spies for Israel
- Islamic State’s carnage spreads as Yazidis slain
- Islamic State fighters massacre as many as 700 Syrian tribesmen, activists report
- Israeli airstrikes kill 3 Hamas leaders in Gaza