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Syrian Army’s counter-offensive hit by casualties, defections

Special to WorldTribune.com

NICOSIA — Casualties among Syrian security forces have been mounting
amid the offensive to quell the revolt against President Bashar Assad.

The Assad regime has acknowledged the death of at least 16 Syrian Army
soldiers during heavy fighting with rebels on Jan. 29. Ten of the soldiers
were killed in a rebel attack on a military convoy in the northwest near the
border with Turkey.

A still image taken from a video purportedly shows members of the Free Syrian Army firing at a convoy of government security buses in the village of Dael, near Deraa. /AP

Meanwhile, Syrian security forces were thwarted in an effort to spirit Assad’s family out of the country, sources from the Syrian opposition told an Egyptian daily.

The sources told Al-Masry-Al-Youm that “a convoy of official vehicles was seen heading to the airport in Damascus,” but were confronted by contingents of army defectors.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the main attack took place in Kansafara in the Idlib province. The opposition group said an improvised explosive device blew up a military truck in the Zawiya Mountain.

“At least 10 soldiers of the Syrian regular army were killed when a device exploded in a military truck in the town of Kansafara in Zawiya Mountain, in Idlib district,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. “A defected soldier has reported that the truck was destroyed completely.”

Opposition sources said Assad forces killed 33 people in an operation on
Rankous, located along the border with Lebanon. The sources said the
mountain community of about 25,000 people was attacked by the Army’s Fourth
Division, commanded by Assad’s younger brother, Maher.

“The shelling was intense and most of the people fled,” an opposition
source said.

The sources said scores of Syrian Army soldiers deserted during the
operation and helped fight the Assad forces. They said the army deployed
main battle tanks and infantry fighting vehicles in the assault on Rankous,
the second major operation in that town since November.

The assault was part of what officials termed a crackdown on the rebels,
who claimed to have captured at least three Syrian towns in January 2012.
Officials said the regime mobilized tens of thousands of army and security
troops for a sustained offensive. On Jan. 28, the Assad regime reported
funerals for 28 soldiers and security officers.

The largest operation was believed to have taken place around Damascus.
The sources said at least 2,000 soldiers, backed by 50 T-72 main battle
tanks and BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles, joined an Assad assault on the
Damascus suburbs of Jisrin, Kafr Batna and Saqba.

At one point, the fighting came close to Damascus International Airport,
one of the last links of the Assad regime to the world. The sources said
Syrian special forces, under the command of Brig. Gen. Mohammed Ramadan,
arrived in helicopters to secure the airport from the rebels.

“A convoy of government cars tried to enter Damascus International
Airport, but FSA squads disrupted the attempt,” an unidentified FSA
commander told the Egyptian daily Al Masri Al Yom.

By late Jan. 29, Assad forces were said to have captured rebel-held
areas of Damascus. The Free Syrian Army withdrew to unidentified positions
within 10 kilometers of Syria’s capital.

“The security forces are determined to carry on the struggle to cleanse
Syria of renegades and outlaws to restore safety and security,” Interior
Minister Mohammed Shaar said. “These crimes will not deter members of the
internal security forces from carrying out their sacred duty to confront
these groups and establish a climate of safety and security.”

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