Syrian troops retake opposition stronghold

Syrian troops retake opposition stronghold

Syrian government forces have re-established full control in the northern city of Idlib following days of deadly clashes with opposition fighters, sources within the country have told Al Jazeera.

The military victory capped a day on which the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad signed a decree stating that parliamentary elections will be held on May 7, even as Kofi Annan, the UN special envoy to Syria, awaited a response from Damascus to his proposals to end the conflict sweeping across the country.

Government troops had waged an assault on the Idlib province near the Turkish border with a view to retake the city since March 9, intermittently shelling built-up areas and spraying houses with machinegun fire in a bid to dislodge anti-government fighters.

Anti-government fighters said troops had killed dozens of people, dumping their bodies in a mosque.

Violence was also reported in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor and security forces shelled Syria's third largest city, Homs, as the year-long uprising against Assad's rule increasingly resembled a civil war.

Spurred by the escalating death toll and tales of heavy-handed government response, the UN said that it would soon deploy human rights monitors in countries bordering Syria to collect witness testimony on "atrocities" committed in the country.

"We will be sending monitors for documentation of atrocities in bordering countries later this week," Kyung-wha Kang, Deputy UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told the UN Human Rights Council during a debate on the crisis in Syria.

Assad announces election date

Meanwhile, Annan was still awaiting a formal response on "concrete proposals" he put forward to end the conflict during his recent visit to the country.

It was unclear whether parliamentary elections were also part of his six-point peace plan.

The former UN chief was in the Turkish capital Ankara on Tuesday, where he met a delegation from the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) .

"I am expecting to hear from Syrian authorities today since I left some concrete proposals for them to consider," Annan told reporters after the meeting. "Once I receive their answer we will know how to react."

Meanwhile, a prominent Syrian opposition figure quit the main political group outside the country on Tuesday, saying many resignations would follow in the coming days.

Haitham al-Maleh's departure from the Syrian National Council may severely hit efforts to unify a splintered opposition struggling to bring down Assad, especially if followed by a wave of others.

"I have resigned from the SNC because there is a lot of chaos in the group and not a lot of clarity over what they can accomplish right now. We have not gotten very far in working to arm the rebels," he said.

CIA chief in Turkey

David Petraeus, head of the US Central Intelligence Agency, met Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday for closed-door talks focusing on the crisis across the border in Syria.

T J Grubisha, spokesperson US embassy, said Petraeus met with Erdogan and Hakan Fidan, head of the Turkish National Intelligence Organisation and "discussed areas of mutual concern, including regional security issues and counter-terrorism co-operation".

"They foresee even closer and more fruitful cooperation on the region's most pressing issues in the coming months," he said.

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