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Syrian forces overpowered military defectors fighting against the regime in the central town of Rastan, moving into and controlling the city after five days of fighting.
The development is a blow to Syrian dissidents who have recently turned to force in their struggle against the Syrian regime after nearly seven months of peaceful protests were met repeatedly with violence by the government. More than 2,700 people have so far been killed, according to the United Nations.
The fledgling armed movement was bolstered by defections from the Syrian army, and in Rastan, protesters and armed insurgent forces had controlled the city for weeks. But the Washington Post reports that Syrian forces regained control of the city Saturday.
The fighting began with a government assault Tuesday, and activists said 250 tanks entered the city Friday, reports the Post. Residents stayed in their homes because of the heavy fighting, and phone lines to Rastan were cut Saturday.
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The military defectors who joined the protesters announced their withdrawal from Rastan Friday night in a statement, reports Agence France-Presse. "Because of major reinforcements and the weapons used in Rastan by [President Bashar] al-Assad's gangs... we have decided to withdraw in order to better wage the struggle for liberty," the statement said, according to AFP.
'Most prolonged' fighting yet
Reuters, which calls the fight to dislodge Rastan from opposition control the “most prolonged fighting between the army and insurgents” since the uprising began, reports that activists say 130 people have been killed since the fighting began in Rastan, including armed insurgents and unarmed civilians. Activists also said that government forces have taken over hospitals and clinics in the city, and have used schools to house hundreds of detained civilians.
Official Syrian news agency SANA says that “stability and calm have been restored” in Rastan after security forces entered the city and fought “terrorist armed groups.” The government has repeatedly sought to portray the protesters as armed gangs or terrorists supported by foreigners. SANA reported that six Syrian Army members were injured during the fighting.
A warning to the US ambassador
Meanwhile, a state-run newspaper warned the American ambassador to Syria to stop interfering in Syrian affairs or he would face more attacks, reports the Associated Press.
"If you want to avoid rotten eggs, you should advise your country to stop its blatant interference in Syrian affairs and its feverish efforts to seek sanctions against Syria from the UN Security Council," the newspaper said, according to the AP.
Ambassador Robert Ford has been a vocal critic of the regime’s crackdown on protesters, and has visited protest hotspots and opposition leaders, angering the regime.
A violent crowd threw eggs, tomatoes, and rocks at his vehicle Thursday as he visited a prominent opposition leader. For was also trapped in a building for about three hours due to the violent mob.
In a note on the embassy’s Facebook page, Ambassador Ford wrote that the crowd tried to break through the windows of his car and tried to break down the office door of the leader he was visiting.