Syria mounts assaults on deserters

Thu, Feb 2, 2012, 00:00

SYRIAN government troops yesterday mounted assaults on army deserters in a valley northwest of Damascus, while carrying out house-to-house searches for arms and activists in its eastern suburbs, retaken from opposition forces early in the week.

The Wadi Barada, a river valley, echoed to the sound of heavy machine gun fire, mortars and artillery shells as units of the regular army attempted to remove opposition gunmen and defectors from positions in and around the resort town of Zabadani, near the Lebanese border.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported government forces attacked several towns, while the local co-ordination committees that organise protests said 29 people had been killed in the valley, including six deserters associated with the “Free Syrian Army”. An opposition activist in the area claimed crack troops of the Republican Guard were involved in the operation.

Government forces are likely to press home their assault on this region with the aim of restoring control over Zabadani, proclaimed by army deserters as Syria’s “first liberated city” last month.

Meanwhile, Arab and Western states have urged the UN Security Council to act swiftly on a resolution calling for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to step aside.

The comments were apparently designed to confront Russia over its reluctance to support the resolution and condemn Dr Assad’s government for its violent suppression of the protests.

Arab League secretary-general Nabil Elaraby called for the council to take “rapid and decisive action” on a resolution that would endorse the league’s demand that Dr Assad delegate powers to his deputy and defuse the uprising against his family’s dynastic rule.

“Do not let the Syrian people down in its plight,” Mr Elaraby said. Qatari prime minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim warned that Syria’s “killing machine is still at work”.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton strongly backed the Arab League’s call for rapid security council action and warned the violence was pushing Syria to the brink of civil war. “The evidence is clear that Assad’s forces are initiating nearly all the attacks that kill civilians, but as more citizens take up arms to resist the regime’s brutality, violence is increasingly likely to spiral out of control,” Mrs Clinton said. “We all have a choice: stand with the people of Syria and the region or become complicit in the continuing violence there.”– (Reuters)