Monday, 12 December 2011

Syrian troops battle opposition fighters in south of country

Syrian government forces are still fighting armed rebels in the south of the country, fuelling fears of a significant escalation in the nine-month long crisis.
Opposition sources reported army operations in the southern province of Deraa, near the Jordanian border.
Sana, the state news agency, reported three members of the security forces were killed in a clash with what they described as a "terrorist gang". Four terrorists were also killed, it said.
The incident came a day after troops from the 12th Armoured Brigade stormed the nearby town of Busra al-Harir, where residents described explosions and heavy machine-gun fire. Defectors from the army have been hiding and attacking military supply lines in the area, Reuters reported.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported fighting on Monday between soldiers and defectors in the north-western region of Idlib, close to the Turkish border. It seems clear that the rebels of the Free Syrian Army are able to operate more easily in the north and south of Syria.
The latest violence came as local council elections were held across the country. They were highlighted by state media as evidence of business as usual – and part of reforms being introduced by President Bashar al-Assad in response to the unprecedented protests. The opposition has called on him to step down.
According to the UN at least 4,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in Deraa in March.
But it is impossible to verify casualty figures or claims by either side because the regime bans most foreign journalists and prevents domestic reporters from moving freely.
Accounts from activists and witnesses, along with videos posted online, are the main source of information.
In Hama the rebel council reported armoured vehicles entering northern areas of the city to break a general strike that began on Sunday to push the government to end its crackdown.
The strike is intended to be open-ended until the army is withdrawn from the cities and thousands of detainees are released.

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