Syrian rebels storm barracks, army shells towns

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 14, 2012 5:51 AM
Syrian rebels storm barracks, army shells towns
By Oliver HolmesBEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian rebels stormed an army barracks in the northwestern province of Latakia overnight and killed at least 20 solidiers loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, an activist group said on Wednesday.The pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebels had captured some soldiers, including a colonel, and seized machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.Latakia, a Mediterranean coastal province and home to Syria's main port, was relatively free of conflict until the past month. Recent weeks have seen a surge in rebel attacks on tanks and army checkpoints and activists say that in some areas, the rebel Free Syrian Army has been able to hold territory.The International Committee of the Red Cross meanwhile said it was preparing to evacuate wounded and trapped civilians from the city of Homs after both sides agreed to its request for a temporary pause in fighting.ICRC spokesman Hicham Hassan said Red Cross and Syrian Red Crescent teams were ready to go into Homs, where hundreds of people have been killed since February, as soon as possible.As the action unfolded in Syria, world leaders aired their differences over the conflict at the G20 Summit at the Mexican resort of Los Cabos.U.S. President Barack Obama said Assad, whose family have ruled Syria for four decades, had lost all legitimacy and that it was impossible to conceive of any solution to the violence that left him in power.But Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters at the end of the summit: "We believe that nobody has the right to decide for other nations who should be brought to power, who should be removed from power."Alarmed but apparently impotent to resolve the crisis, the outside world is deeply divided in its response to the increasingly sectarian conflict that threatens to become a proxy war for regional powers.Western nations and their Sunni Muslim allies in the Gulf and Turkey seek Assad's overthrow but are wary of intervention, while Russia, China and Shi'ite Iran - Assad's strategic ally - have protected Assad from a tough international response.Fifteen months since the anti-Assad uprising broke out, the situation has now become so dire that a United Nations observer force, originally deployed to monitor a ceasefire, halted patrols on Saturday after convoys were shot at and attacked by crowds.CLASHES ACROSS COUNTRYObservatory head Rami Abdelrahman said that in the Latakia barracks raid, fighting went on from Tuesday late until just before dawn on Wednesday. Two buildings were destroyed, he said.In assaults against opposition strongholds across the country, soldiers and militias loyal to Assad killed 19 people on Wednesday, he said.Six fatalities were on the outskirts of the capital Damascus which the government has shelled in an attempt to claw back ground lost to the rebels who had set up their own checkpoints.Activists in central Hama city said the army shelled Arbaeen neighborhood and troops were preparing to the storm the area.Residents of several towns and cities point to a similar strategy by the army - first it bombards areas where rebels are hiding, sometimes for days, and then ground troops move in.Also on Wednesday, a convoy carrying an Italian journalist was hit by two roadside bombs, killing a Syrian policeman and wounding three others, while it was travelling to the southern town of Deraa, the Italian news agency ANSA said.Claudio Accogli, an ANSA correspondent, was unhurt.The United Nations says more than 10,000 people have been killed by government forces during the conflict, while Syria says at least 2,600 members of the military and security forces have been killed by what it calls foreign-backed "Islamist terrorists".International efforts to halt the violence are deadlocked because Russia and China, which hold veto power in the U.N. Security Council, have blocked tougher action against Assad. They say the solution must come through political dialogue, an approach most of the Syrian opposition rejects.But a peace plan proposed by international envoy and Nobel Peace laureate Kofi Annan has all but collapsed and the West is unwilling to intervene militarily, as it did in Libya last year to seal the fate of Muammar Gaddafi.What began as a peaceful protest movement has developed into a civil war between the armed factions, marked by a campaign of repression by Assad's forces that has been internationally condemned for its ferocity.Despite Western diplomatic and moral support for the rebels, the large, well-equipped government forces have them outgunned, making a swift resolution to the conflict an unlikely prospect.(Additional reporting by Catherine Hornby in Rome; Editing by Angus MacSwan)