Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Shias, mass media, and Hezbollah: What lies behind the battle for Qusair

by Nadezhda Kevorkova, Russia Today

As the Syrian army and rebels fight for control of Qusair, it is necessary to realize why the town is strategically important and vital for Shias on both sides of the border, making it a military and media battleground. There are far more elements surrounding the situation in Qusair than first meet the eye, RT's Nadezhda Kevorkova reveals.

The army’s advance to Qusair is a key strategic operation. Qusair is near Homs, which is located on the road connecting Damascus with the Mediterranean seaport. And Qusair itself is the closest town to the Lebanese border. So taking control of it allows the forces to control the Lebanese border with the Shias living on both sides.

There is an important high point between Qusair and the Lebanese village Al-Qasr. The Syrian army was forced to leave this area in the fall of 2012, so locals lost their protection. Opposition fighters took over the region and tried to chase out the Shias and take control of the high point – there were severe battles here in April 2013. (I was in Lebanon’s Al-Qasr at the time – the village came under heavy fire). But the rebels lost to the fighters from the Syrian People’s Committees. They were able to hold the high point.

Had the opposition forces won over this rather small and seemingly insignificant area, there would’ve been major consequences. The war would’ve spread to Lebanon, and Hezbollah would’ve been obligated to get involved. Jihadists would’ve been able to get into Syria from Lebanon and attack Hezbollah in southern Lebanon in the Beqaa Valley.

But fighters from the Syrian People’s Committees didn’t let them do it and held the high point.

Thanks to their effort, the government forces were able to deploy troops here and start the Qusair counter-offensive on May 19.

(click on map for full resolution)
Thirty-thousand Syrian Shias live on the Syrian side of the border (not the Alawites - the Shias). As we know, the border between Syria and Lebanon is relative - the Shias have lived here for ages. When colonial powers drew border lines between countries, they didn’t take the traditional settlement patterns of ethnic groups and communities into account. Many of the local residents have Lebanese passports.

In the fall of 2012, rebels and foreign mercenaries began to sweep Shia villages with fire. They also intimidated people and conducted ethnic cleansing operations. In mixed communities they would go into Shias’ houses telling people to get out, drew “outlaw” signs on the buildings, snipers shot at those who tried to exit these houses. If a family left a home, it was burned down. Rebels planned to drive all Shias out of the area near the border.

Opposition propaganda resources in major mass media and social networks have deployed a campaign in the Islamic world aimed at bolstering the idea that all the Shias are apostates – they are not Muslims, not native to these regions and are simply a tool that is used for proliferating Iranian policy across the Middle East. That is why jihad regards killing a Shia as noble. A number of propaganda resources that different sheikhs were using to broadcast anti-Shia sermons, were involved with the campaign.

Moreover, the mass media are thus instilling the minds of Muslims with the idea that all the Shias, including ordinary peasants, are Hezbollah militants, and Hezbollah, in its turn, is a supplement to the 'dreadful thugs' of the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution.

Such an approach, which is used by the opposition and backed by the world’s major mass media, has a precise analogy.

The scorched-earth policy was first used in the region by the Irgun Jewish settlers in April 1948, when several Palestinian villages were wiped off the map (Deir Yassin is the most well-known). The goal was simple: the news about the massacre of 254 Palestinians – kids, women and old people would terrify all the rest so much, that they would run away voluntarily. The news about such unprecedented atrocities as, for instance, disembowelling pregnant women did strike terror into people: unarmed and unskilled in terms of war 740 thousand Palestinians fled from their home villages becoming refugees. Zionist ideologists still claim that the Palestinians are not native to Palestine and they were invited there as migrant workers, so they are either Bedouins, or nomads, or Gypsies from the Middle East who didn’t have any skills in agriculture and didn’t know how to farm.

This is also the reason that has been driving the mass-media campaign to discredit Hezbollah that has been accused of allegedly fighting against the Syrian people. Video footage and photographs of fallen Hezbollah fighters dating back to the 2006 Lebanon War have been circulated as “proof” that Hezbollah is involved in Syria and suffering losses. Back in 2006, 800 Hezbollah fighters put up resistance to the ground invasion of Lebanon by Israel, and these numbers were officially announced by the party leader Hasan Nasrallah.

I met with families that were forced to flee Syrian villages by the border. These were mostly large families who feared that their women, wives and daughters, would be raped by the opposition fighters and criminals that accompany them. Many also said that it was their strategy to intimidate the local population on purpose to have the houses vacated. Nonetheless many stayed and organized community defense volunteer squads to protect themselves from the rebel forces and mercenaries with arms in their hands.

The battle of Qusair has been of strategic importance, but not only that - Qusair is the only town, however small (with 50,000 people of population ) that had been given up by the government forces in the past – while the rest of the towns in Syria are under the government’s control. Mass-media that are telling their audience that the purpose of the battle of Qusair was “to regain control over the Mediterranean coast” and “re-deploy the government forces to Aleppo” are lying. The army is already in full control of the coast. Last Sunday, the army launched a massive offensive on all transit routes for weapons and supplies coming into the country.

As of today, Qusair is surrounded by the Syrian army, which is also in control of the downtown area. An escape corridor is being kept open for the fleeing population. The militants who fail to use it are contained in town’s quarters.

As for the losses, all the numbers cited are pure speculation and part of the propaganda attack on Syria. For example, the opposition initially reported online that they had killed “90 Hezbollah militants,” yet after a while changed the number to 30, and that’s in addition to the Syrian army’s losses of 20 soldiers reported by the army itself.