Syrian troops seize rebel bastion; UN backs Annan mission

Syrian troops seize rebel bastion; UN backs Annan mission

Syrian troops Wednesday forced rebels to quit a stronghold near the border with Iraq, said activists, as the United Nations Security Council pledged backing to a mission by envoy Kofi Annan to end the year-long conflict, DPA reported.

"The Syrian Free Army withdrew from Deir al-Zour to avoid a civilian massacre at the hands of the regime forces," the opposition group, which is made up of army defectors, said in a statement.

Deir al-Zour is the third rebel stronghold to fall to government forces in March. Last week, troops took control of the dissident city of Idlib near the border with Turkey.

On March 1, government forces captured the opposition bastion of Baba Amr in the central province of Homs after almost a month of bombardment, according to activists.

Government tanks Wednesday shelled suburban areas of the capital Damascus, opposition activists said.

"The shelling targeted the areas of Harasta and Irbin after army defectors attacked the regime's intelligence compound there," activist Haytham al-Abdallah told dpa by phone.

Four people were killed and 10 wounded in the shelling, according to al-Abdallah.

At least 22 more people were killed in other areas of Syria, according to activists.

The violence in Harasta near Damascus reportedly prompted many families to flee to areas in eastern Lebanon for fear of an imminent government offensive.

A Lebanese security source, who requested anonymity, told dpa that five families had arrived in Lebanon overnight.

Elsewhere, government forces pounded the al-Khalidiyeh and Rastan districts in Homs, and the historic castle area of Al Madeek, northwest of Hama province, reported the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

News from Syria is hard to independently verify as the government has barred foreign media and humanitarian groups from the country since a pro-democracy uprising started in March 2011.

In New York, the UN Security Council issued a statement supporting Kofi Annan, the UN-Arab League envoy for Syria, and called for an end to the violence.

Annan had sought support for his diplomatic efforts to end the unrest. The UN estimates that more than 8,000 people have died since the uprising began.

Annan met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad earlier this month in Damascus where he put forward proposals calling for an immediate ceasefire, access for humanitarian aid and the initiation of an inclusive political dialogue.

Russia and China, the main allies of al-Assad's regime, had previously vetoed two Security Council resolutions on Syria.

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