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As Syria cease-fire wavers, rebels head back to battle in battered sedan, pickups

A Western journalist who made a rare visit inside Syria confirmed a breach in the UN cease-fire yesterday, as rebels engaged a military convoy.

By David EndersMcClatchy Newspapers / April 19, 2012

In this image made from amateur video released by the Shaam News Network and accessed Wednesday, April 18, smoke billows an impact following purported shelling in Khaldiyeh district, Homs, Syria.

Shaam News Network via AP video/AP

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Qusayr, Syria

Rebels here fought the Syrian military yesterday in a breach of a United Nations-sponsored cease-fire that was rare primarily because it was witnessed by an independent journalist who had entered the country surreptitiously earlier this week.

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The fighting began in this city near the Lebanese border in the early afternoon after a group from the Free Syrian Army, the name claimed by most of the rebels who have taken up arms against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, attacked a military convoy near the city.

Fighters here had said earlier this week that they were respecting the cease-fire brokered by UN Syria envoy Kofi Annan at the behest of Riad al-Assad, a Syrian army colonel who defected and is now the nominal leader of the rebels in Turkey.

The fighting in Qusayr took place as a UN monitoring team visited Douma, a site of frequent clashes between the rebels and the military on the outskirts of Damascus, Syria’s capital.

In Hama, another site of frequent violence north of Homs, antigovernment activists reported two deaths yesterday and a number of demonstrations against the government. They also reported that the military was increasing the number of checkpoints between Hama and Idlib, a city in the country’s north that rebels had held until March and that’s part of the rebel supply line from Syria’s border with Turkey.

The Farouq Brigade

The fighters in Qusayr, most of whom belong to the Farouq Brigade, the Free Syrian Army’s largest group, accused the government of violating the terms of the cease-fire by increasing the number of troops in the area during the past week. They said that shelling, which has been heard and seen in nearby villages frequently since Sunday, was intended to protect the government forces as they set up checkpoints along main roads here in hopes of disrupting rebel movements.

As tanks began shelling Qusayr, rebels here grabbed their weapons and headed in the direction of the fighting. They were obviously mismatched, as they loaded nothing heavier than rocket-propelled grenades into a pair of pickups and a sedan whose windows had been shot out in a previous battle.

“We are still respecting the cease-fire,” said Mohammed Idris, a commander in the Farouq Brigade here. “What is going on now is defense.”

UN officials, hopeful of giving the cease-fire time to take hold as they increase the number of monitors in Syria, have said that isolated violations are to be expected. But reports indicated that government shelling hadn’t stopped in Homs, the country’s third largest city, since the cease-fire went into effect and that the daily death toll was creeping upward throughout the country after violence subsided briefly in the first few days of the cease-fire.

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