Syrian rebels kill 27 troops
Thursday, December 15, 2011
BEIRUT (AP) — Army defectors killed 27 government forces Thursday in apparently coordinated attacks that were among the deadliest by rebel troops since the uprising began nine months ago. The escalating unrest prompted Canada to advise thousands of its citizens in Syria to leave.
The fighting began around daybreak in the southern province of Daraa, where the uprising against President Bashar Assad’s authoritarian regime began in March.
Syria has seen a sharp escalation in armed clashes recently, raising concerns the country of 22 million is headed toward civil war. The U.N. raised its death toll for the Syrian uprising substantially this week, saying more than 5,000 people have been killed since the revolt began.
“The attacks by army defectors are becoming more coordinated and more deadly. Unfortunately, this will likely lead to a new cycle of escalation by the regime,” said Mohamad Bazzi, a Syria expert at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Sanctions by Western powers, Turkey and the Arab League have added to the growing pressure on Assad from within Syria. U.S. State Department official Frederic Hof told Congress on Wednesday that Assad’s repression may allow him to hang on to power, but only for a short time.
Still, the regime could exploit the escalation of armed attacks by military defectors to escalate the crackdown with full force on pockets of defectors concentrated in Daraa and the northwestern province of Idlib that borders Turkey.
Because of the turmoil, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Canadians living in Syria should leave as soon as possible while commercial flights are still available. Washington issued a similar warning for U.S. citizens in September.
“Our best advice is to leave Syria immediately, by any available means and while options exist,” Baird said.
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