Defecting Syria soldiers join ranks with protesters

Syria's uprising has taken a violent turn as soldiers have abandoned Bashar al-Assad's regime and joined antigovernment protesters.

By , Staff writer

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    Students protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, Syria, on Thursday. European UN Security Council members softened a draft resolution condemning Syria's crackdown on antigovernment protests but Russia suggested Thursday that it still might not support the new text.
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A string of defections from the Syrian Army has given protesters armed forces of their own who clashed with government forces Friday in the town of Rastan, signaling the end of the protesters' insistence that the uprising remain totally unarmed.

According to BBC, at least 1,000 army deserters and other armed men clashed with government forces in Rastan, a little more than 100 miles north of Damascus, in the last few days. Reuters reports that, according to the Syrian Revolution General Commission, the last few days of clashes – which included tank fire from government forces – killed 41 people in Rastan.

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The Syrian Revolution General Commission, an umbrella for several activist groups, said that the figure was an estimate, with communications cut with the besieged town.

While clashes continued in Rastan, the US Ambassador to Syria came under attack in Damascus for the second time since protests began in March. Regime supporters hurled tomatoes and rocks at Ambassador Robert Ford, who has been a vocal critic of the Syrian regime.

Shortly after the incident, which prompted angry demands from the US that Damascus fulfill its international obligation to protest Mr. Ford while in the country, the Syrian foreign ministry released a statement in which it accused the US of "encouraging armed groups to practice violence against the Syrian Arab Army," Reuters reports.

Ford has been an unconventional diplomat. He has fostered ties with the Syrian opposition, visited protest sites in support of the demonstrators, and two weeks ago, attended the wake of a prominent antigovernment activist. President Barack Obama gave Ford the Damascus assignment – unfilled since 2005 – shortly after taking office in hopes of drawing Syria away from Iran and regional militant groups. But since protests began in March, Ford has become a thorn in the regime's side for his unabashed support for demonstrators and opposition groups.

The Associated Press reports that the Obama administration blamed the Syrian government for the attack, which it said was "part of an ongoing, orchestrated campaign to intimidate American diplomats in the country."

Such incidents are usually not spontaneous in Syria, and Thursday's attack came amid high tension between the two nations, as well as accusations by Damascus that Washington is inciting violence in the country.

"This inexcusable assault is clearly part of ongoing campaign of intimidation aimed at diplomats ... who are raising questions about what is going on inside Syria," [Secretary of State Hillary] Clinton said. "It reflects an intolerance on the part of the regime and its supporters."

Amid escalating accusations between Washington and Damascus, the UN Security Council is struggling to reconcile Russian and Chinese positions on Syria with those of the rest of the permanent members. The council met Thursday to discuss a UN resolution condemning the Syrian government's crackdown and calling for political talks, but were unable to reach an agreement because of Russia's opposition to mentioning the possibility of sanctions on Bashar al-Assad's government, the AP reports.

In a piece yesterday by The Christian Science Monitor, a top British official explains why intervention similar to the one approved for Libya is highly unlikely, making sanctions one of the strongest steps that can be taken against the Assad regime.

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