With international diplomacy stalled, forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are attacking the southern flashpoint city of Daraa Wednesday. The forces appear to be gaining against rebel fighters. Meanwhile, three prominent members of an opposition council submitted their resignations, further fragmenting the activists.
Opposition video shows Syrian government tanks and soldiers on the outskirts of Daraa, accompanied by sporadic shelling and intermittent gunfire.
Syrian government forces captured the large northern city of Idlib, near the Turkish border, several days ago. Opposition video released Wednesday shows rebel soldiers making their last stand inside the town. Surrounding towns remain in rebel hands.
The fighting comes as the United Nations-Arab League special envoy for Syria says Assad's government has responded to his overtures on ending the crisis but questions remain.
A spokesman for envoy Kofi Annan said the former U.N. chief is seeking clarification of Syria's answers to proposals he made in Damascus over the weekend. The spokesman said "time is of the essence," considering the "grave and tragic situation" in Syria. Annan is scheduled to brief the U.N. Security Council on Friday.
A Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman said Damascus had responded positively to Annan's proposals. In an email to VOA, Jihad Makdissi said the Syrian government sees a political solution as "the best way to overcome the painful crisis" because it's in Syria's best interests.
Amid diplomatic efforts to end the crackdown, an international rights group says Syrians detained during the uprising have been subjected to torture.
Amnesty International says the treatment of detainees in Syria amounts to crimes against humanity. The group issued a report Wednesday based on interviews with 25 Syrians who said they endured torture at detention centers before they fled to neighboring Jordan.
Meanwhile, a divide emerged in the opposition Syrian National Council [SNC] with three leading members, Haitham al-Maleh, Kamal al-Labwani and Catherine Altalli, announcing they had quit to form a separate group. Maleh and Labwani have been critical of the SNC for its unwillingness to arm the rebel Free Syrian Army, made up mostly of former Syrian army members.
Hilal Khashan, who teaches political science at the American University of Beirut, cautions that rebel setbacks and a fragmenting opposition may be temporary. He believes that recent military successes of Syrian government forces will only embolden the opposition movement.
"When you have a well-equipped army with armor and artillery against ragtag troops of the Free Syrian Army, the outcome of a direct confrontation in a classical battle is clear. Taking over cities does not end the uprising. Actually, it adds a new momentum to it. Remember, last year in April, the army overran Daraa. That did not quiet the uprising, but allowed it to spread elsewhere,” said Khashan.
Khashan said the Syrian army has continued assaults in the mountain town of Zebadani because rebels keep returning.