Syrian Defectors Battle Assad forces as Deaths Mount


Syrian soldiers loyal to President Bashar al-Assad fought opposition forces in at least three cities today as the death toll mounted amid growing international pressure to end almost a year of violence.

Soldiers battled in Homs after regaining control of the city’s Baba Amr district from rebels on March 1, while clashes escalated in the cities of Idlib and Hama, Mahmoud Merei, head of the Damascus-based Arab Organization for Human Rights, said in a phone interview today. Five people were killed today, he said.

At least 46 people were killed yesterday, including 14 government soldiers, three army defectors and 29 civilians, Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human rights, said by telephone from London.

The monthlong siege of Homs has led to intensified international pressure on President Bashar al-Assad a year after his forces began a crackdown on protests. The army has used tanks and artillery to fight opposition forces and more than 7,500 people have died in the conflict, according to the United Nations.

An International Committee of the Red Cross team that arrived in Homs on March 2 with Syrian Red Crescent Society members wasn’t allowed into Baba Amr, the Red Cross said. The Syrian government told the Red Cross it can’t enter until mines and booby traps are cleared, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported yesterday, without saying where it got the information. The BBC also said there were unconfirmed reports of mass arrests and summary executions by Syrian forces in the district.

Joint Effort

Saudi Arabia said Gulf Cooperation Council members are prepared to participate in any joint effort to help Syrians protect themselves from the Assad government, the Saudi Press Agency reported March 2.

The European Union said March 2 that it is preparing “further targeted restrictive measures” against Syria, according to a statement from a summit of its leaders in Brussels. The EU also said it recognized the Syrian National Council, the main opposition alliance, as “a legitimate representative of Syrians.”




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