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Violence in Syria continues as U.N. debates its future

January 31, 2012 |  3:19 pm

Hilary clinton syria
REPORTING FROM BEIRUT -- Violence continued to rage in Syria on Tuesday even as the United Nations debated an Arab League-based proposal for Syrian President Bashar Assad to relinquish power.

At least 20 more fatalities were reported throughout the nation, including 10 in the restive northern province of Idlib, according to the Local Coordination Committees, an opposition coalition.

The group has reported more than 300 killed by government forces in the last five days.

An opposition activist reached in the city of Idlib reported that rebel units were firing at Syrian army patrols trying to advance into the town, causing casualties on both sides.

The state news agency reported Tuesday that an “armed terrorist group” assaulted a funeral for a slain  officer in the Idlib region, killing two law enforcement officers and kidnapping two others.

Armed rebels, including defectors from the Syrian military, have taken to mounting a guerrilla campaign against government security forces, inflicting heavy losses and stretching the capacity of Assad’s 200,000-strong military.

Security forces have methodically  moved with tanks and infantry into opposition-occupied towns and neighborhoods, evicting the rebels in a bid  to prevent the emergence of any “liberated” zones that could serve as symbolic centers and logistical hubs. A government offensive this week forced insurgents to pull back from restive suburbs near Damascus, the capital.

In turbulent Homs province, which has reported more casualties than any other region during the 10-month uprising against Assad and his government, opposition officials said tanks were shelling the city of Rastan, causing dozens of casualties. People in Rastan were afraid to leave their houses, opposition supporters said.

“Now that the observers are gone, and no one is watching, they feel they can finally do whatever they want,” said an opposition activist in Rastan who goes by the nom de guerre Abu Raafat.

He was referring to the Arab League’s decision last week, amid mounting violence, to suspend its observer mission in Syria and seek U.N. action. The observers’ presence had prompted some security units to modify their behavior, opposition activists  said.

Advocates for the fall of Assad said anger was growing against Russia, which has vowed to veto any U.N. resolution that calls for regime change in Syria or imposes economic sanctions or other penalties against the regime.

“The feeling of hate towards the Russians is mounting,” said the activist in Rastan. “Russia is protecting its own interests and it doesn’t matter that people are being slaughtered. They are protecting one person.”

Despite such sentiments, Assad does maintain a base of support, especially among Christians and other minorities who fear a sectarian bloodletting should his government fall. The uprising has its base among Syria's Sunni Muslim majority.

In Homs province, the government reported that “terrorists” blew up an oil pipeline and a gas pipeline, the latest in a series of such sabotage attacks.

Reports of damage and casualties from Syria could not be independently confirmed as media access is restricted.

RELATED:

In fog of Syria, observers can't tell what they are seeing

Arab League suspends mission in Syria amid rising violence 

Why are U.S., Russia squabbling over Syria at the United Nations?

-- Patrick J. McDonnell and Rima Marrouch

Photo: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks at the U.N. Security Council meeting Tuesday on the crisis in Syria. Credit: Mario Tama / Getty Images

 

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