Syrian forces pound flashpoints as opposition leader quits

Arab World Materials 17 May 2012 21:51 (UTC +04:00)

Syrian forces Thursday began a new offensive against the rebellious province of Homs, according to activists, while the leader of a major opposition grouping quit, in a sign of increasing rifts among the opposition, dpa reported.

Burhan Ghalioun, the head of the opposition National Syrian Council (SNC), said he would resign as head of the council once a successor was found, after his re-election drew criticism.

"I will not allow myself to be the candidate of division ... I am putting my resignation on the table," Ghalioun said in a statement from Paris, where he lives in exile.

Ghalioun has led the SNC, an umbrella group of Syrian opposition factions, since its creation in October 2011. He was re-elected on Tuesday.

His announcement came after the opposition Local Coordination Committees threatened to suspend its membership from the council due to what it called its "moving away from the spirit of the Syrian revolution and democratic demands."

Opposition activists inside Syria have frequently criticized the SNC for not coordinating closely with them in their campaign to oust the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Ghalioun's resignation will likely deepen divisions in the Syrian opposition and dent its credibility, mainly in the West.

Meanwhile, activists said at least 13 people were killed Thursday by al-Assad's forces, as the unrest in Syria entered its 15th month.

The focal point of attacks by the regime troops was Al-Rastan city, a stronghold of the opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) in Homs, added the activists.

"The city has been under shelling since the early hours of the morning. The bombardment is targeting residential buildings," an FSA member in the city told dpa by satellite phone.

"Our fighters have thwarted several attempts by the troops of al-Assad in the past two days and have inflicted casualties on them," added the rebel who identified himself as Abu Omar.

At least five people were killed in Thursday's shelling attack, according to him.

He urged United Nations monitors, deployed in Syria to oversee a fragile ceasefire, to "immediately" visit Al-Rastan.

Meanwhile, the spokesman for the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman, told dpa the regime forces "want to destroy Al-Rastan" because it was under the rebels' full control.

Homs has been a flashpoint since a pro-democracy uprising erupted against al-Assad's regime in March 2011.

Elsewhere, shelling attacks by military troops targeted areas in Idlib, a province near the Syrian-Turkish border, killing five people, according to the opposition.

Three others were killed when regime forces cracked down on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, added the activists.

The UN has accused both sides in the conflict of violating the truce, which came into effect on April 12.

More than 12,000 people, mainly civilians, have died since the Syrian uprising began, according to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The UN has put the number of deaths at 9,000.

In neighbouring Lebanon, one person was killed and seven wounded Thursday in fresh clashes between supporters and opponents of al-Assad's regime in the northern city of Tripoli, local media reported.

The Syrian crisis has divided Lebanon between the opposition, which is backed by Western and Arab countries hostile to al-Assad's regime, and the Shiite Lebanese movement that dominates the Lebanese government and is supported by Damascus and Iran.