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Syrian Activists Say 23 Soldiers Killed in Fighting

  • Edward Yeranian

Image made from amateur video purports to show a Syrian rebel helping an injured man in Rastan, Homs, Syria.

Image made from amateur video purports to show a Syrian rebel helping an injured man in Rastan, Homs, Syria.

CAIRO - Syrian activists say rebels killed 23 soldiers in battles near the flashpoint city of Homs - one of the deadliest days for Syrian forces in a 14-month, anti-government uprising.

Rebel soldiers fought sporadic battles against troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in the past 24 hours, claiming heavy casualties on government troops. Opposition videos showed rebel fighters behind earth berms, defending their positions with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades.

Ibrahim Ayoub, a rebel officer in Rastan, told al Arabiya television that rebel forces had fought off an attempt by government troops to storm the town. He urged members of a joint U.N.-Arab League observer force to visit the town to witness what he says are violations of a shaky cease-fire.

One U.N. observer told residents in northern Idlib province he was doing his best to help end the violence. Nearly 200 observers are in Syria.

Timor Goksel, a former spokesman for the U.N. observer mission in Lebanon, says he thinks the U.N. presence in Syria should help.

"We should not expect these guys to solve the problem or to blame (them) if it doesn't. I think they are doing a quite credible job within their very limited ways and I think they will get even better the more they get on the ground, the more they get used to the place,” Goksel said.

Goksel does not believe, however, that the observer mission will solve the root cause of the violence in Syria. “The only real solution,” he says, “is the resumption of a dialogue between the government and the opposition.”

Analyst Nadim Shehadi of Chatham House in London believes that such a dialogue is no longer useful and will only profit the government:

“The principle of having dialogue with the regime is wrong, because if you have dialogue, the regime will gain time and will continue suppressing the opposition and do more damage. The SNC has tried dialogue with the regime and part of the problem that the SNC is going through now is caused by former dialogue with the regime,” Shehadi said.

Shehadi says divisions within the exiled opposition Syrian National Council were made worse when its leader, Burhan Ghalyoun, accepted a dialogue with internal opposition figure Haitham Manah, which according to Shehadi, "set a trap for him, leaking a draft agreement, and sowing discord.”

Meanwhile, Ghalyoun told reporters in Rome that his opposition council has agreed to restructure to be more viable in opposing the government:

He says the performance of the council has been poor, but that restructuring will improve its work in defending the revolution and the poor citizens of Syria.

He adds that the SNC is still not using weapons but that some states have offered to supply them, if it decides to do so.

Meanwhile, Syria's conflict continues to spill into neighboring Lebanon. Sporadic clashes continued into Monday in the Lebanese city of Tripoli following violence on Sunday. Lebanese supporters of the Syrian opposition clashed with their pro-Syrian Alawite neighbors.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.