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Defectors Fight Syrian Troops As Opposition Begins General Strike

Anti-government protesters carry the coffin of Abdul Haleem Baqour during his funeral in Hula near Homs, Syria, December 10, 2011. Baqour was killed by shrapnel during shelling by the government army on Hula last week.

Syrian opposition sources say nearly to 20 people were killed across the country Sunday as bitter fighting erupted in several parts of the country. The fighting occurred as many towns and cities appear to have observed a call for a general strike.

Rebel soldiers fought Syrian government troops near the Turkish border and outside the southern city of Diraa, burning a number of army vehicles. The violent clashes took place as shops and businesses observed a general strike in many parts of the country.

Several dozen videos on opposition websites showed shops shuttered in what was being called “a strike for honor.” Witnesses in the northern city of Aleppo reported many businesses in outlying neighborhoods participated in the strike, after months of hesitation in joining opposition protests.

The opposition “Syrian Revolution” Facebook page claimed government agents “burned 178 shops” in Diraa, for observing the strike. An opposition leader also told al-Arabiya TV that government officials in Hama threatened to permanently shutter shops that observed the strike.

Witnesses in the besieged northern city of Homs say government forces fired on several neighborhoods, including Deir Balbah. Opposition sources say the government has issued an ultimatum to rebel soldiers to surrender, or face an attack on the city. Government forces have reportedly dug trenches and electricity and communications to the city have been cut.

Claims by either side are difficult to verify because Syria has banned most foreign journalists and prevented local reporters from moving freely.

Analyst Khattar Abou Diab, who teaches political science at the University of Paris, says despite the Syrian government's attempts to crush the popular uprising in various parts of the country, including Homs, protests continue to erupt in new places.

He said the rebellion remains quite strong and the conflict now engulfs the Diraa region, the suburbs of Damascus, areas around Hama, large swaths of Idlib province near Turkey, the desert town of Deir ez Zor, as well as Homs. He says each time the Syrian government tries to snuff out the rebellion in one place, a new one breaks out elsewhere. He says there can be no military solution to the conflict, because the uprising has strong roots across the country, unlike a rebellion that was brutally put down in 1982.

Syrian opposition supporters also stormed their country's embassy in the Jordanian capital of Amman. Embassy guards reportedly arrested a number of protesters, causing other angry protesters to surround the building.

Arab League sources reported Saturday that Arab foreign ministers would not meet until week's end to discuss Syria's response to a League initiative to send Arab observers to prevent violence against civilians. It is not clear if League ambassadors will meet sooner.

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