Syrian army bids to quell revolt ahead of ceasefire


THE SYRIAN military yesterday reportedly continued to mop up rebels in Douma, near the capital, the central city of Homs, and Rastan, north of Homs, with the aim of crushing the revolt ahead of next Tuesday’s UN deadline for a ceasefire, and troops to pull out of cities and towns.

Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu informed UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon that troops conducting intensive operations near the border with his country had forced more than 2,800 Syrians to flee the northern Idlib province. If numbers grew, Turkey would apply for UN aid, he said.

Following Friday mosque prayers, thousands of Syrians were said by opposition activists to have demonstrated in restive cities and towns across the country.

Analysts predicted a spike in violence ahead of troop withdrawals and the ceasefire laid down by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan. Commentators argue that the government, which accuses the rebels of provoking attacks, seeks to leave no security vacuum for rebels to fill in dissident areas when troops are withdrawn.

Rebels say the military is adopting a scorched earth policy and expelling civilians from anti-regime towns and villages.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been warned by the US, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon and Algeria not to arm the Syrian rebels. Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said they would not be able to defeat the army even if they were “armed to the teeth” and that providing them with money and weapons would prolong the conflict.

Qatar has financed weapons purchases and dispatched Libyans to train and fight alongside Syrian rebels, but the scale of the intervention has, so far, been limited.

Riyadh and Doha agreed to funnel money through the Syrian National Council, an expatriate coalition dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and puritan Salafis, inspired by Saudi Arabia.

However, the council has received a major blow to its credibility with the defection of the Kurdish bloc, which argues that Ankara is putting pressure on the council to exclude Kurdish demands in a document outlining a transition programme for Syria.

A recent abandonment by senior figures has also undermined the standing of the council, which has few followers in Syria itself and expects to gain command of the rebels by providing funds and arms.

The Syrian foreign ministry, in a letter to UN human rights commissioner Navi Pillay, has criticised her for issuing allegedly false accusations against countries the West seeks to target and relying on unverified reports about the conflict in Syria.

Countering the UN estimate that 9,000 people have died during the unrest in Syria, the ministry said 6,143 citizens had been slain by “terrorist groups” and 1,590 had been kidnapped.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has sent a supply convoy to the port of Tartous, where 2,000 families have taken refuge from the fighting. The Red Cross was this week granted permission to expand its operations in Syria and the government agreed to two-hour ceasefires to evacuate wounded from and deliver aid to contested areas.