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June 11, 2011

Syrian Government Forces Retake Parts of Restive Northern Region

Syrian Army units have reportedly broken through the defenses of the restive, but mostly deserted, northern town of Jisr al Shaghour, after intense shelling by tanks and field artillery.  Meanwhile in Libya, rebel fighters have reportedly stepped up their pressure on supply lines into the capital Tripoli.

Syrian tanks have captured parts of the rebellious northern town of Jisr Shaghour, amid reports of heavy fighting in certain quarters of town.  Government TV claims army units had defused explosives from roads and bridges planted by “armed gangs” and “cleared gunmen from the town hospital.”

A rebel army officer holed up inside the town, Hussein Harmoush, told al Jazeera TV that none of the men fighting along side him had surrendered.  He claimed his men had laid booby-traps to “delay the entry of army forces into the town and to allow civilians to escape.”

Video and eyewitness reports say Syrian government attack helicopters were used extensively in operations around Jisr al Shaghour for a third consecutive day.  A number of witnesses reported the helicopters fired on fleeing civilians.

A Syrian human-rights activist told al Arabiya TV that 10,000 Syrian soldiers had been deployed in the region of Idlib, where Jisr al Shaghour is located, to try to put down the burgeoning popular rebellion.  Thousands of civilians have fled to nearby Turkey in recent days.

A video on Facebook showed a group of young men, overnight, trying to block a Syrian army convoy made up of tanks and supply trucks in the region of Idlib.  Syrian government media said the convoy had been “attacked” and that one man was killed.

Syrian TV also claimed that a mass grave was discovered in the region of Idlib, containing the bodies of security forces killed by “rebel gangs.”  It was impossible to verify the claim, since most foreign correspondents are not being allowed into the country.

A newly released video on Facebook showed pro-government militiamen kicking and stomping on several dozen captives, lying face down on the ground with their hands tied behind their backs.  The militiamen could be heard mocking their captives, calling them “animals.”

Groups of mostly young protesters also demonstrated against the government overnight in provincial towns, as well as Damascus suburbs, including Saqba, Hassaka, Douma, Qaboun and Midan.  A Syrian opposition website is calling for ongoing nightly protests against the government.

Al-Arabiya TV also reported a tribal leader from eastern Syria, Sheikh Nawaf al Bashir has accused Lebanon’s Hezbollah of attacking protesters during Friday demonstrations.  Several Lebanese political leaders who oppose Syria have made similar recent claims.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle denounced the Syrian government crackdown in Jisr al Shaghour, demanding that Damascus “stop the violence immediately.”  The White House also accused Syria of creating a humanitarian crisis, Saturday, calling for Damascus to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross “immediate, unfettered access” to the region.

In Libya, al-Arabiya TV reported that rebel fighters had gained control of parts of the coastal town of Zawiya, cutting off traffic along the coastal highway to Tripoli.  Fuel and other supplies are running short in the capital, amid reports of popular discontent.

Rebels fighters also battled pro-Gadhafi forces in the strategic oasis town of Sabha, before being beaten back.  Sabha is a key government stronghold along supply routes to southern Libya.  Pro-Gadhafi forces also pounded rebels with field artillery in the western mountain town of Zintan.

 

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