Pro-Assad forces regain rebel Syrian town: agency

Sat Oct 1, 2011 6:20pm EDT
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Activists and human rights campaigners say loyalist forces are killing an average of 10-20 civilians every day.

One of the activists told Reuters that Rastan remained sealed while "state media stage their version of events" but that at least 130 people, both insurgents and civilians, have been reported killed in the assault since Tuesday.

"The Khaled bin al-Walid battalion took a decision to withdraw from Rastan to spare the town further killings," he said, adding that they included 12 insurgents from the Ali bin Abi Taleb brigade of defectors in the nearby region of Houla, across the Orontes river.

He said six loyalist soldiers were killed in attacks by the defectors in Houla on Saturday, and that troops later sealed the agricultural regional center and arrested 30 villagers.

Another activist said that troops and pro-Assad militiamen have occupied hospitals and clinics in Rastan and converted schools into detention centers now holding hundreds of villagers, in line with tactics used in assaults on numerous cities and towns across Syria.

An official statement said on Friday that seven soldiers and police were killed in a military operation against "terrorists" in Rastan. "The units responsible have inflicted big losses on the armed terrorist groups," the statement said.

Rami Abdel-Rahman, head of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said a force of 250 tanks was sent to Rastan.

The United Nations says Assad's crackdown has killed 2,700 people since the mostly peaceful protests erupted in March, inspired by Arab revolts which have toppled three Arab rulers in North Africa and rattled leaders across the Middle East.

The United States and Europe have condemned what they described as brutality by the Syrian authorities and imposed sanctions on the country's small but key oil sector.   Continued...