Syria calls reserves as it strains to crush revolt

UNHCR cites sharp rise of refugees, including soldiers trying to flee; Assad pledges to allow Red Cross to expand operations.

Syrian soldiers attend funeral 370 (photo credit: Reuters)
Syrian soldiers attend funeral 370
(photo credit: Reuters)
Syria is calling up former soldiers from the reserves to active army service in growing numbers, a sign of the strain of efforts to crush the 17-month-old revolt against the president. Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar Assad promised the president of the Red Cross to allow it to expand its humanitarian operations in the war-torn country.
Several fleeing reservists and a serving army officer told Reuters that thousands of men had been called up in the past two months to bolster the 300,000 strong army, and many of them are failing to report for duty.
One army officer contacted in Homs said he believed that only half of those called up in recent months had reported for duty, although it was not possible to verify that figure or ascertain whether other units had experienced similar levels of reservists failing to report.
Most Syrian men are required to serve in the army for two years when they turn 18 or after finishing university. After a man has served, he remains in the reserves and can be called up for active duty.
Syria's conflict has killed more than 20,000 people. Fleeing reservists said that whatever their political stance, they did not want to be part of the country's civil war.
The fighting has intensified in the past two months, with rebels, often led by army defectors, launching advances in the capital Damascus and commercial hub Aleppo despite being massively outgunned by one of the region's best-equipped armies.
Syrian authorities, who say they are fighting foreign-backed terrorists, have not given full details of military casualties. One anti-Assad monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, says nearly 6,000 soldiers and members of the security forces have been killed.
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Meanwhile, Assad and the president of the Red Cross held a meeting in Damascus on Tuesday, during which the Syrian president promised to allow the organization to expand its operations.. The meeting comes after the release of a summary on Tuesday by the UNHCR briefing which stated that more than 100,000 people are seeking asylum in surrounding countries – the highest monthly total of the Syria crisis to date.
UNHCR and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent continue to expand operations to support displaced Syrians. The number of Syrian refugees registered or awaiting registration as of September 2nd is 235,368 (including 103,416 people who have registered since August 2nd), according to the report.
It is not only civilians who are seeking to flee, as residents in Damascus say checkpoints across the city now inspect young men's IDs to check they are not fleeing army service or have not been called up from the reserves. Some deserters dare not leave their homes, fearing neighbors who might report them.