Syrian army retakes Idlib as SNC faces internal heat
Published Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Syrian forces have swept through the rebel stronghold of Idlib in the country's northwest, the opposition conceded on Wednesday, in a decisive blow to the armed rebellion.
Idlib, one of the last remaining rebel bastions, was overrun by Syrian forces after a four-day assault to retake the city.
"Since last night there has been no more fighting," said Noureddin al-Abdo, an activist in Idlib, confirming earlier reports by a government newspaper that the city had been recaptured by Syrian authorities.
"The [rebel] Free Syrian Army (FSA) has withdrawn and regime forces have stormed the entire city and are carrying out house-to-house searches," said Abdo by telephone to AFP.
The army launched its assault on the rebellious province of Idlib near the Turkish border on Saturday, bombarding the city of the same name and outlying regions in a bid to root out armed insurgents.
Assad's forces appear determined to restore control over the country and recapture final pockets with a heavy rebel presence.
"The FSA preferred to withdraw because everyone knows it cannot resist the army," Abdo said.
Armed rebels face steep odds against the better-equipped Syrian army as they are said to be mostly rogue gunmen from restive neighborhoods.
Abdelaziz Al-Khayyer, senior figure with the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria (NCB), told Al-Akhbar on Tuesday that most armed rebels in Syria were not part of any organized military unit.
"The major ratio of the armed people are really civilians who are being armed to defend themselves. They do not obey the orders of any military leadership, they react when they face aggression from the regime's forces," he said.
"They keep their arms in their houses. Those who obey orders [from rebel leaders] are limited numbers and nobody knows for sure how much they are really active in the field," he added.
The recapture of Idlib is a significant blow to the rebellion and comes two weeks after government forces retook the rebels' central stronghold in Baba Amr, Homs.
Despite the government victory in Homs, the city is still plagued by deadly violence.
At least 15 civilians were killed in the Karm al-Louz neighborhood of Homs on Tuesday, including a woman and her four children, Syria's official news agency, SANA, said.
SANA's report blamed "armed terrorist groups" for the killings and comes three days after another brutal massacre in Homs in which 45 civilians were stabbed and burned, mostly women and children.
The government and armed rebels traded blame over Sunday's massacre.
Compounding the rebels' military loss is the growing fallout within the Istanbul-based Syrian National Council (SNC), with three key figures resigning on the eve of the Syrian uprising's first anniversary.
Haitham al-Maleh, Kamal al-Labwani, and Catherine al-Talli announced on their Facebook pages they were quitting due to "differences" and the "inefficiency" of the SNC, an opposition coalition of Islamists, liberals, and nationalists.
The SNC has faced heat within opposition circles in recent weeks over its push for military intervention, and growing ties with autocratic Gulf monarchies.
The NCB on Tuesday criticized the SNC's military objectives, urging the group to return to its original aims of a peaceful revolution.
Another opposition group, the Syrian Media Services, held a sit-in in front of the SNC's Cairo office on Monday.
The SNC said it is already planning with the support of several foreign governments to send arms into Syria, and coordinate disorganized armed groups through a military bureau.
But it faces increasing adversity as government forces retake final rebel strongholds and disunity plagues the opposition.
Amnesty: torture rife in Syria
Amnesty International said Syrian security forces have been routinely torturing people detained in the year-long uprising, while armed groups have also carried out human rights violations.
The London-based group said detainees are beaten with sticks, cords, and rifle butts and sometimes are suspended inside tires for further beatings. Others are sexually assaulted or killed.
Amnesty based its report on interviews in mid-February with dozens of Syrians who had fled to neighboring Jordan. Twenty-five said they had been tortured or ill-treated, the group said.
"Torture and other ill-treatment in Syria form part of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population, carried out in an organized manner and as part of state policy and therefore amount to crimes against humanity," it said.
The group said it has documented 276 cases of death in detention since the uprising's start. Given the large number of people who have been detained, it says the number of those killed is likely much higher.
But abuses were not limited to the government, according to Amnesty, which also highlighted crimes carried out by armed rebels fighting the regime.
The report accused armed opposition groups of kidnapping and killing people believed to be associated with the regime.
Amnesty "condemns without reservation serious abuses by armed groups, including attacks that target civilians, indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks, torture, and other ill-treatment, hostage-taking, and the killing of captives," it said.
The report said that while reports of torture had dropped after Assad assumed power in 2000, the unrest since March 2011 "has seen a concomitant rise in the number of reports of individuals subjected to torture or other ill-treatment by security forces."
Amnesty's latest report came after the UN's refugee agency said 230,000 Syrians have fled the violence, 200,000 of which are internally displaced, citing information gathered by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.
The remaining 30,000 have mostly fled into neighboring Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan.
Syrian officials were not immediately available for comment. The Syrian government blames the uprising on armed extremists acting out a foreign conspiracy.
(Al-Akhbar, AP, AFP)