Syrian rebels kill nine soldiers in Idlib province

Former Syrian general tells 'Sunday Telegraph' that regime's troops demoralized, won't last past February.

Syrian soldiers Homs 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Syrian soldiers Homs 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Nine Syrian soldiers were killed and several others wounded in clashes Saturday overnight with opposition militias in the country's northwestern region, London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Sunday according to AFP.
The clashes erupted in the restive Idlib province, a region that has become one of the fiercest battlegrounds in the Syrian opposition's efforts to unseat the regime of President Bashar Assad. The clashes included a rebel ambush on a military vehicle in Mount Zawiya near Syria's border with Turkey in which one Syrian soldier was killed.
The rest of the casualties occurred in "clashes" with Syrian rebels in the rural Idlib area, including the death of one high-rank officer in an attack by rebels that killed six Syrian soldiers, according to Dubai-based Al Arabiya.
The Free Syria Army, the armed Syrian opposition formed by army defectors and volunteers, has stepped up its attacks on army outposts throughout the country in an attempt to stop Assad's army from continuing its brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters that has claimed the lives of more than 6,000 Syrians since March 2011.
At least 18 people were gunned down by Syrian troops across the country Sunday, Syrian opposition activists said, adding that dozens were injured in bombings carried out by the Syrian army in Homs and cities near Damascus.
A former Syrian soldier that defected and fled to Turkey last November said Sunday that Assad's remaining forces are demoralized and will not survive beyond February, according to The SundayTelegraph.
General Mustafa al-Sheikh said  that because of "the shortage of Syrian army personnel," the Syrian regime will not be able to withstand increasing attacks from the armed opposition group, the Free Syria Army (FSA).
"The Syrian army combat readiness I would put at 40 per cent for hardware and 32 per cent for personnel. They are sending in elements from the Shabiha (militia) and the Alawite sect to compensate, but this army is unable to continue more than a month. Some elements of the army are reaching out to the FSA to help them to defect," Sheikh told The Sunday Telegraph.
He said that he believes the Syrian army has become a "crazy killing machine" and that within two weeks time the whole region will flare up if no diplomatic solution to the conflict is reached.
"The region is strained to the limits because of the role of Iran," he said. "The Syrian regime has helped transform it into a base for Iranian conspiracies."
The Sunday Telegraph report emphasized that Sheikh is not an impartial observer and that he is currently negotiating with the FSA and opposition group the Syrian National Council about his future role in the fight against Assad.
Sheikh said that the Syrian opposition is hoping for a coalition effort "similar to what happened in Kosovo and the Ivory Coast," following Russia and China's veto of a UN Security Council resolution calling for Assad's ouster.
Click for full JPost coverage
Click for full JPost coverage