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Middle east

Syrian forces withdraw from town of Zabadani

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2012-01-19

Syrian army tanks have withdrawn from the town of Zabadani outside Damascus, leaving it under opposition control, activists said Thursday. The town has seen heavy clashes between government troops and army defectors in the past six days.

AP - Syrian government tanks and armored vehicles have pulled back from an embattled mountain town near Damascus, leaving it under the control of the opposition, activists and eyewitnesses said Thursday.

The besieged town of Zabadani has witnessed heavy exchanges of fire between army troops and anti-government military defectors over the past six days.

Activist Fares Mohammad said Syrian forces surrounding Zabadani withdrew Wednesday night to two military barracks some miles outside.

“There is a cautious calm, but fear of another major assault being prepared against Zabadani,” he told The Associated Press by telephone from the resort town, located alongside the Lebanese border 17 miles (27 kilometers) west of Damascus.

The Syrian opposition has on several occasions throughout the 10-month uprising gained control of a town or city, but ultimately forces loyal to President Bashar Assad retook them. It is unusual however for the army to take so long to recapture a town so close to the capital.

Mohammed said the siege had eased, although heating oil has not been allowed into the town, where it snowed earlier this week. Military checkpoints surrounding the Zabadani were still in place, he said, while about 100 armed defectors were “protecting” it.

Residents said that government mortars had shelled the town on Wednesday, but that too had stopped.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the pullout from Zabadani, saying only two armored personnel carriers were left behind at one of the checkpoints near the town.

There was no comment from Syrian officials about the fighting in Zabadani.

The pullback from Zabadani comes as a monthlong Arab League observer

mission to Syria officially ends, with Arab foreign ministers expected to review the monitors’ report at the League’s headquarters in Cairo over the weekend to decide on their next steps.

According to the protocol signed by the Syrian government, the mission ends Thursday but can be renewed for another month.

But the mission is mired in controversy, with the opposition claiming it served as a cover for the regime to continue its brutal crackdown on the uprising.

Activists said at least nine people were killed by security forces across Syria Thursday, including four activists who were ambushed in the northern Jabal al-Zawiya region.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland suggested that the observers’ mission might not last indefinitely under the current circumstances.

“Despite the best efforts of the Arab League, despite the considerable risks that they’ve put their monitors to, it has not succeeded in getting the Assad regime to meet its commitments,” she told reporters in Washington Wednesday.

Adnan al-Khudeir, head of the Cairo operations room to which the monitors report, said that the League will discuss Sunday whether or not to extend the mission.

Qatar’s leader proposed this week sending Arab troops -- rather than just observers -- into the country to stop the mounting deaths, but Syria said it “absolutely rejects” such plans.

Al-Khudeir said that a proposal to send troops is not on the weekend meeting’s official agenda, but that any Arab League member could raise it.

Date created : 2012-01-19


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