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Syrian army tightens grip on rebellious city

Arab World Materials 1 October 2011 21:06
Syrian troops backed by tanks on Saturday tightened their control on the rebellious city of al-Rastan after five days of fierce fighting with army defectors, activists and official media said.
Syrian army tightens grip on rebellious city

Syrian troops backed by tanks on Saturday tightened their control on the rebellious city of al-Rastan after five days of fierce fighting with army defectors, activists and official media said.

The head of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman, told dpa that government troops were now in control of most of the city after defectors pulled out, dpa reported.

Syrian state television announced earlier in the day that the "military operation" over the past few days in al-Rastan had ended and "the troops are now searching for armed gangs and terrorists to arrest them."

The city, which is part of the restive central province of Homs, has been under heavy shelling since Monday, according to opposition activists.

"The city is almost destroyed due to the shelling from the army," an anti-government activist based in the Lebanese capital Beirut told dpa.

"Around 15 army defectors were killed and more than 80 others injured in the fighting that took place Saturday," he added on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals from the Syrian authorities.

Unconfirmed reports said that at least 100 people had been killed and more than 250 injured in five days of fighting in al-Rastan.

Activists said water tanks in the city of 60,000 people were destroyed during the heavy shelling by the Syrian army.

Al-Rastan has reportedly become a rallying point for Syrian soldiers who have refused orders to fire on pro-democracy protesters.

Other activists said that four civilians were killed Saturday in the district of Qadam near the Syrian capital Damascus.

Another civilian was shot dead by security forces on Saturday in the area of Talbisa in the central province of Homs, they added.

Funerals for 13 army and security personal were held in Homs, state-run media reported on Saturday.

"The martyrs were targeted by armed terrorist groups in Homs and the Damascus countryside while they were on duty," state television added.

The Syrian authorities have been blaming the unrest since mid-March on "armed gangs" allegedly financed by the West and some Arab countries.

Foreign journalists are barred from Syria, where security and military forces have killed an estimated 2,700 people during a crackdown on protests, according to the United Nations.

Meanwhile, representatives of Syria's main opposition grouping met behind closed doors in Istanbul on Saturday, broadcaster Al Arabiya reported.

The Syrian National Council, which comprises various factions and around 140 opposition figures that oppose the government of President Bashar al-Assad, was founded in the Turkish city in late August.

In the past few months, Syrian opposition groups have held meetings around the world - in Istanbul, Cairo, Paris, Brussels, Bonn and Damascus - exposing rifts among them.

"The Syrian opposition is united in demanding change in Syria, but it is divided over how to achieve it," an activist based in Lebanon told dpa.

"The sense of responsibility is still weak among many opposition groups and that is why such meetings as the current one in Istanbul are necessary," he said.

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