Syria: More Military Officers Desert Assad Regime
The latest defections bring the number of Syrian generals sheltering in Turkey to 22. A total of 43,387 Syrian refugees are now registered as living in the country.
The news comes as the Syrian army launches a new offensive against rebel-controlled areas of Damascus.
Rebels have already left the central Midan district after coming underÂ heavy bombardment, opposition activists and rebel sources said.
The state broadcaster reported: “Our brave army forces have completely cleaned the area of the remaining mercenary terrorists.”
Rebel commander Abu Omar insisted that the group’s withdrawal was “tactical”, and said they were still in the city. Reports emerging from the country on Friday suggested that rebels had torched barracks used by Mr Assad’s militia in the Ikhlas district.Â
Fierce fighting has also been reported in several districts in Aleppo, Syria’s second city.
On Thursday, opposition fighters seized control of a number of Syria’s key border crossings after clashes with the army.
Rebels also attacked the main police station in the capital Damascus in another sign that the rebel movement is at its strongest since the 16-month uprising began.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 302 people were killed across the country on Thursday, including 98 soldiers, 139 civilians and 65 rebels. If correct, it would be the deadliest day of fighting since the beginning of the revolt.
Officials in neighbouring Iraq said Syrian rebels were in control of the Syrian side of the main Abu Kamal border checkpoint on the Euphrates River highway, one of the main trade routes across the Middle East.
However the Iraqi army later sealed the border crossing with concrete blast walls to guard against any escalation in fighting.
Television pictures also showed rebels in control of the border crossing of Bab al Hawa into Turkey at one point but it has been reported that they later withdrew.
Opposition activists also managed to seize the Jarablus crossing into Turkey in what appears to be part of a co-ordinated campaign to seize strategic crossing routes.
In Damascus a witness in the central old quarter district of Qanawat said the huge headquarters of the Damascus Province police was black with smoke and abandoned after being torched and looted in rebel attacks.
“Three patrol cars came to the site and were hit by roadside bombs,” said activist Abu Rateb.
“I saw three bodies in one car. Others said dozens of security men and pro-Assad militia lay dead or wounded along Khaled bin al Walid street before ambulances took them away.” The activistâ s account cannot be independently verified.
There have been reports that Mr Assad has gone to the coastal town of Latakia where he has a presidential palace.
Latakia provides an easier location from which to make an escape if the president reaches the conclusion he has no option but to leave Syria.
There have been further reports that Syria’s first lady, Asma al Assad, has fled to the Russian capital Moscow. Again, these are unsubstantiated.
Meanwhile Russia has backed an unconditional 45-day extension of the UN monitoring mission in Syria, rather than Britain’s idea to add 30 days to their mandate.
“We will support it since we were involved in drawing up (the draft resolution) together with our Pakistani colleagues,” deputy foreign minister Gennady Gatilov said.
His comments came a day after Russia and China to block possible UN Security Council sanctions against its Middle East ally.
Russia Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich saidÂ the blocked resolution wasÂ “absolutely unrealistic” and called on Western nations to putÂ more pressure on Syrian rebels to stop fighting.
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