Sunday 17 December 2017

Syrian troops storm into rebel city of Rastan

Alex Spillius

Hundreds of Syrian troops, supported by tanks and helicopters, stormed a key rebel city yesterday to crush armed opposition against Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Civilians in Rastan said at least 20 people were injured in the military operation, which began shortly before dawn and continued throughout much of the day, sending plumes of black smoke rising into the sky.

"Tanks closed in overnight and the sound of machine guns and explosions has been non-stop. They finally entered this morning," said Abu Qassem, a resident.

As night fell, there was no definitive indication the army had succeeded in regaining control of the city, which lies north of Homs on the road to Turkey.

After six months of mostly peaceful protests against 41 years of Assad family rule, the opposition is turning violent, a development that could prove crucial.

The refusal of Tunisian and Egyptian commanders to confront non-violent demonstrations spelt the demise of their autocratic rulers.

The armed rebellion in Rastan is said to consist mostly of defecting soldiers. They have attacked army buses and roadblocks manned by troops and pro-Assad militiamen, known as 'shabiha', which have multiplied as the security forces have made a priority of extinguishing opposition in the city.

Meanwhile, residents in Homs claimed that rebel soldiers hit a government tank with a rocket.

Opposition groups reported that hundreds of soldiers who have refused orders to fire on protesters have formed the Khalid bin al-Waleed battalion, named after the Arab conqueror of Roman Syria, in Rastan. The force reportedly possesses some tanks as well as light weaponry.

A video posted online yesterday by activists purportedly showed Youssef Hammoud, a captain in the Syrian army, flanked by several of his comrades, announcing his defection.

"We promise them that the town of Rastan will be their graveyard," he warned Mr Assad's army.

"We promise them big surprises." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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