Middle East News
Syria seizes rebel bastion Idlib on eve of uprising anniversary
Mar 14, 2012, 16:59 GMT
Beirut - Syrian government forces overran Idlib on Wednesday, killing at least 34 people in the northern province, opposition activists said on the eve of the first anniversary of a popular uprising against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.
They said five more had died in Homs and another five, including three army defectors, had been killed in clashes with government forces near Damascus, raising the number to 44.
In New York, a spokesman for the UN-Arab League special envoy for Syria, Kofi Annan, indicated dissatisfaction with the response received from Damascus following Annan's weekend meeting with al-Assad.
'The joint special envoy for Syria, Kofi Annan, has now received the responses from Syrian authorities, but he has questions and is seeking answers,' spokesman Martin Nesirky said at UN headquarters.
'But given the grave and tragic situation on the ground, everyone must realize time is of the essence. As he has said in the region, this crisis cannot be allowed to drag on,' Nesirky added.
Rami Idlibi, an activist in the province, told dpa by satellite phone that army forces, backed by tanks, were now in Idlib. 'They started their terror mission by searching houses and arresting more than 150 people, including women and the elderly,' he said.
'The (rebel) Syrian Free Army has quit Idlib, but they continue to fight this brutal regime,' Idlibi added. 'The FSA withdrew from Idlib because of a shortage of ammunition.'
Government troops launched a massive assault on Idlib near the Turkish border on Saturday, bombarding it to flush out the rebels.
The capture of Idlib, one of the core dissident areas, is seen as a boost for the government forces, as the province had become a rebel centre after they fled the central province of Homs when it was taken by al-Assad's troops two weeks ago.
News from Syria is hard to independently verify as the government has barred foreign media from the country.
The surge in violence came as Amnesty International said detainees faced a 'nightmarish world of systematic torture.'
'The scale of torture and other ill-treatment in Syria has risen to a level not witnessed for years and is reminiscent of the dark era of the 1970s and 1980s,' the rights watchdog said in a report based on testimony from survivors who fled to Jordan.
In a clear rebuff to Annan's initiative, Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdisi said all the envoy had offered was mere verbal ideas and not 'written proposals.'
'The government wants to eliminate the arms that were raised against the authorities,' Makdisi told reporters in Damascus.
Annan's proposals included cessation of violence, humanitarian access to areas affected by the violence and political dialogue, his spokesmen said.
The Syrian government has repeatedly blamed 'armed terrorist groups' for the unrest, which the UN estimates to have killed over 7,500 people.
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