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Syrian rebels pull back from Idlib after heavy fighting

March 13, 2012 | 12:24 pm

Idlib

REPORTING FROM BEIRUT -- Rebel forces have pulled out of a stronghold in northwest Syria, the site of an ongoing government offensive that left 100 people dead over a two-day period, opposition spokesmen said.

Security forces accompanied by dozens of tanks entered Idlib, a provincial capital, after the rebels withdrew late Sunday, said Mazen Arja, an opposition activist who said fighters were badly outgunned.

“Even one bullet from a Kalashnikov was responded with by a tank shell,” said Arja via Skype on Monday. “If we had RPGs [rocket propelled grenades] we wouldn’t have left. We could have finished off the tanks .... It’s an orphan revolution.”

Syrian dissidents have complained bitterly about what they call a lack of outside help to arm rebel combatants, even as government officials label them foreign-backed “terrorists.”

Opposition accounts of the fighting in Idlib could not be independently verified as the area is closed to foreign media.

The rebels voiced the hope that pulling back from the city would relieve pressure on its 150,000 or so residents, many of whom have been hunkered down with no electricity or water and little food and medicine as the town was shelled. About 13,000 residents have fled to surrounding villages, although the army blocked exits on Monday, forcing some people to escape through underground tunnels, Arja said.

Opposition forces said they feared revenge killings like those reported in the central city of Homs after government troops overran a rebel enclave there early this month. The government has denied any reprisal killings in the Baba Amr district of Homs and blamed “terrorists” for recent killings there, including a massacre of dozens of civilians reported on Monday.

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-- Times staff

Photo: Syrian rebels react after being fired on by a tank, unseen, during a day of heavy fighting in Idlib on Sunday. Credit: Rodrigo Abd / Associated Press

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