Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Free Syrian Army inflicts heavy losses on al-Assad forces in southern Syria – Source | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat – Hundreds of Syrian army defectors fought pitched battles with Syrian army forces in southern Syria yesterday, in one of the largest battles to have taken place in the country since the Syrian popular protests first broke out 9 months ago. Syrian army forces, reinforced with tanks and heavy artillery, stormed the town of Basrah al-Harir and Lujah, located approximately 40 km north of the Jordanian border yesterday. Local residents said they heard the sounds of explosions and machine gun fire as the Free Syrian Army [FSA] tried to attack the Syrian government forces supply lines.

A Syrian political activist, who gave his name as Abu Omar, said that “Lujah has been the safest area for defectors to hide because it is difficult for tanks and infantry to infiltrate. The region has caves and secret passageways and extends all the way to Damascus countryside.”

Another civilian political activist, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, revealed that the Syrian army stormed Basrah al-Harir yesterday following clashes with [Syrian army] defectors who have joined the FSA. He added “this is a striking development that points to the military conflict now being transferred to southern Syria, after such conflict was previously only seen in central or northern Syria.”

An FSA official confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat that FSA units carried out a tactical withdrawal from Basrah al-Harir, which came under siege by Bashar al-Assad forces. He also revealed that a group of FSA officers and soldiers also fought Syrian army forces – that were backed by tanks and heavy artillery – causing heavy casualties to the Bashar al-Assad forces and destroying 3 tanks.

The FSA officer stressed that Basrah al-Harir was completely occupied by “al-Assad army forces and mercenaries”, adding that the FSA had also suffered some losses in the battle.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed that seven people were killed in the flashpoint regions of Homs and Idlib on Monday at the hands of Syrian security forces, whilst strikes were also observed in Daraa.

Idlib has been a center for FSA officers and soldiers fleeing the government crackdown on Syrian army defectors, with many former Syrian army soldiers fleeing into neighboring Turkey.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also said that 8 people were killed across Syria on Sunday, whilst the opposition Local Coordination Committee put the Sunday death toll at 18.

These developments took place at a time when there is growing fear about the fate of Homs, which is completely surrounded by al-Assad forces. There have been claims that the residents of the city of Homs have been granted a deadline to stop anti-government protests, hand over their arms, and surrender military defectors, before Monday night – or face attack by the government forces.

The Syrian government has not acknowledged any such deadline on state-run media. The main opposition body, the Syrian National Council [SNC], earlier warned of a potential bloodbath in Homs being carried out by the Syrian regime. The SNC said that evidence from Syrian activists present on the ground indicates that “the regime is paving the way to commit a massacre in order to extinguish the revolution in Homs.”

Sources in Homs said that the pro-Assad “Shabiha” militia forces had set up more than 60 checkpoints around the city.