Syrian rebels say they face 7,000 gov't troops

UN-Arab League envoy on Syria, Kofi Annan expects to visit Syria "fairly soon"; rebels defend besieged district of Baba Amro.

By REUTERS
March 1, 2012 03:18
3 minute read.
Fighters in the Free Syrian Army.

Fighters in the Free Syrian Army FSA 390. (photo credit: Jonathan Spyer)

 
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Syrian rebels defending the besieged Baba Amro district of the city of Homs reported further fighting overnight and said they faced at least 7,000 troops loyal to President Bashar Assad.

A senior official of the rebel Free Syrian Army, Mohaimen al-Rumaid, told Reuters on Thursday opposition forces elsewhere in Syria had been ordered to step up the fight against government forces to relieve pressure on Homs, which has been under sustained artillery and rocket bombardment for 26 days.

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"Infantry fighting goes on. The men are still resisting and Assad's army is shelling Baba Amro but it has not gone deep beyond its parameters," said Rumaid, a member of the Higher Military Council overseeing the Free Syrian Army.

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"From Qamishly in the east to Idlib in the north and Deraa in the south Syrian Free Army brigades are promising military operations in revenge for Baba Amro and operations to disrupt supplies from reaching Homs," Rumaid said from an area in Turkey near the border with Syria.

Rumaid said Assad was banking on overrunning Baba Amro, which has become a symbol of the uprising, to send the message that he would put down the revolution across the country.

"Baba Amro is surrounded by no less than 7,000 troops," he said, adding that he could not say how many rebels there were but predicting that they would offer strong resistance.

"Baba Amro will be the straw that will break the regime's back. All of Syria is turning into Baba Amro," Rumaid said.

"I was in the special forces before I defected and I saw how one fighter early in the uprising would hold off a whole brigade in an urban warfare setting. The morale of the fighters is also higher than the loyalist troops," he added.

Rumaid acknowledged, however, that the rebels in Baba Amro were far outgunned, since they had mainly medium machineguns and mortars to counter armoured forces backed by heavy artillery and rockets.

Diplomats said earlier that the feared 4th Armoured Division was mounting a drive to "finish off" the rebels in Baba Amro.

The 4th Armoured Division commanded by Maher Assad, the president's younger brother, has won a reputation for ruthlessness during the past year of revolt against the government.

N. Arab League envoy Annan says to visit Syria soon

The UN-Arab League envoy on Syria, Kofi Annan, said on Wednesday he expected to visit Syria "fairly soon" and made a plea for Syrian President Bashar Assad to engage with efforts to end the country's bloodiest turmoil in decades.

The outside world has proved powerless to halt the killing in Syria, where repression of initially peaceful protests has spawned an armed insurrection. Russia and China have twice used their vetoes to block any action by the UN Security Council.

"I would plead with (Assad) that he should engage, not only with me, but with the process we are launching," Annan told reporters after meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York. "I would expect to get to Syria fairly soon."

"The first thing we need to do ... is everything we can to stop the violence and the killing, to facilitate humanitarian access and to ensure that the needy are looked after, and work with the Syrians in coming up with a peaceful solution," said Annan, who was UN Secretary-General from 1997 through 2006.

Annan described his role as "a very difficult assignment, it's a tough challenge" and also appealed for the international community to act as one in attempting to end the fighting.

"I strongly urge the Syrian authorities to extend their full cooperation," Ban told reporters on Wednesday after his meeting with Annan. "I call on them once again to work towards a peaceful democratic solution for the Syrian people."

U.N. Under-Secretary-General for political affairs Lynn Pascoe told the UN Security Council on Tuesday that "well over 7,500 people" have been killed in Syria during an 11-month government crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

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