Syria storms rebel town, admits sanctions hurting

Syrian forces tried to storm the rebel bastion of Rastan under cover of gunfire and shelling, reports said, as Damascus admitted sanctions were biting and the head of the main opposition bloc resigned.

The rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) meanwhile denied it was behind the abduction of Lebanese Shiite pilgrims, an incident stoking tensions in neighbouring Lebanon which is divided between pro- and anti-Damascus camps.

There was no word on any Rastan casualties, but the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 15 people were killed nationwide, including seven troops shot dead at Qalamun in Damascus province as they tried to defect.

As the violence continued to rage, Russia, one of Syria's few allies, offered to host direct talks between the Damascus regime and rebel representatives, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said.

Soldiers were trying to overrun Rastan for the second time in 10 days, with shells crashing into the town at the rate of "one a minute" at one stage, according to the Britain-based Observatory.

An activist said FSA fighters were defending Rastan's entrances but that "regime forces are being strengthened with new deployments," including from the elite Republican Guard.

"Electricity has been cut off in Rastan, and water tanks have been shelled," Abu Rawan told AFP. "There is also a severe lack of food because the market is closed and we can't bring food in from nearby villages."

Hours later, the activist said the army assault eased when a team of UN observers entered Rastan.

On May 14, 23 soldiers were killed in a failed assault on Rastan, a town straddling the main highway linking Damascus to the north and where rebels regrouped from the battered city of Homs.

Elsewhere, troops fired on protesters in second city Aleppo in the north as about 1,500 people rallied against the regime, triggering armed clashes, said the Observatory.

Activists said lawyers and sympathisers with the revolt staged a sit-in at Aleppo's judicial complex to demand the release of political prisoners, and to pay tribute to four students killed at a May 3 rally in the city.

The uprising against President Bashar al-Assad broke out with peaceful democracy protests in March 2011, prompting a fierce crackdown that spawned an increasingly militant response.

More than 12,600 people have been killed, nearly 1,500 of them since a UN-backed truce took effect April 12, according to the Observatory.

The bloodshed has persisted despite the ceasefire brokered by UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, as well as previous diplomatic measures including several rounds of sanctions against Assad's regime.

The violence took a broader turn in the region as Lebanon's state news agency said Syrian rebels kidnapped 13 Shiites as they were headed home to Lebanon by bus from a pilgrimage in Iran.

Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansur said the pilgrims were abducted by "a splinter group of the armed Syrian opposition", but that he expected their release "within hours."

The FSA denied involvement.

The opposition Syrian National Council, whose leader Burhan Ghalioun formally resigned from his post Wednesday, also issued a call for the pilgrims' release, adding it too believed the regime could be involved in the kidnapping.

Ghalioun had announced plans to resign on May 17 to avert divisions within the opposition bloc, after activists on the ground accused him of monopolising power.

Oil Minister Sufian Allaw admitted on Wednesday that punitive measures imposed by the West have cost Syria almost $4.0 billion (3.2 billion euros) and caused shortages in fuel products.

"The oil sector has lost almost $4 billion because of the unjust European and US sanctions, blocking exports and imports of oil and oil derivatives," he told a news conference.

The minister acknowledged "new difficulties" in meeting Syria's energy needs, especially for domestic gas, blaming measures taken by the United States and the European Union.

Speculation was also rife Wednesday among anti-regime activists over the alleged "killing" of Assad's brother-in-law Assef Shawkat, who is also Syria's deputy defence minister.

Shawkat, former head of military intelligence, was poisoned, according to anti-regime activists. The authorities in Damascus have not responded publicly to the claim.

Amnesty International said Thursday the Syrian government may have committed crimes against humanity by using "lethal" force and "torturing" detainees in its crackdown.

And Google announced that its mapping software and other products would be available in Syria after getting export approval by the US government, citing the right to "free expression."

Over the past 14 months of unrest, pro-democracy protesters have used social networking sites to whip up support and the government has also resorted to the Internet to strike back.

Loading...

Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • Caltex Fuels Your Shopping With Robinsons Rewards Card Partnership
    Caltex Fuels Your Shopping With Robinsons Rewards Card Partnership

    Robinsons Rewards Card (RRC) members will enjoy earning more points not only when they shop at their favorite Robinsons stores but also when they fuel up at Caltex. Every five liter gas up earns a point which means that the more customers fuel up at Caltex and shop at Robinsons, the more points for fuel and shopping savings. Chevron Philippines Inc. (CPI), marketer of Caltex fuels and lubricants, teamed up with Robinsons Retail Holdings, Inc. (RRHI), the second largest multi-format retailer …

  • Philippines hits back at Beijing over South China Sea
    Philippines hits back at Beijing over South China Sea

    The Philippines on Saturday shot back at Beijing's criticism of its activities in the South China Sea, saying they were "in no way comparable to China's massive reclamation activities" in the waters. It also said accusations that Manila was being "hypocritical" would not distract people from Beijing's own actions which were raising regional tensions. "The Philippines' possible undertaking of necessary maintenance and repairs on its existing facilities in the West Philippine Sea... is in no …

  • Boxing hero Pacquiao is top tax-payer in Philippines: govt
    Boxing hero Pacquiao is top tax-payer in Philippines: govt

    Boxing hero Manny Pacquiao, who faces his biggest fight against unbeaten American Floyd Mayweather, already holds top spot as the number one taxpayer in the Philippines, government records showed Saturday. A list of top individual tax-payers for 2013, posted on the Bureau of Internal Revenue website, put the boxer-turned-congressman at number one with 163.84 million pesos ($3.72 million) in taxes paid. Internal revenue chief Kim Henares confirmed that Pacquiao topped the list but stressed …

  • Phl, Japan sign P9.6-B ODA projects
    Phl, Japan sign P9.6-B ODA projects

    The Philippines and Japan have signed agreements for six official development assistance (ODA) projects amounting to 22.289 billion yen or around P9.6 billion. …

  • Commission to launch glossary of Pinoy meteorological terms
    Commission to launch glossary of Pinoy meteorological terms

    The Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF) will release a glossary of meteorological terms in Filipino to help the Filipino people better understand weather forecasts and instill disaster awareness among them. National Artist for Literature and KWF president Virgilio Almario said yesterday the KWF produced the glossary titled Patnubay sa Weder Forkast to simplify scientific terms used in the weather bulletins of the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration …

  • Divorce bill good scapegoat for couples – CBCP
    Divorce bill good scapegoat for couples – CBCP

    Contrary to what romance novel writers would want their readers to believe, there are no perfect marriages in the real world. This was according to Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) president Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas. In a statement titled “CBCP Position Against the Divorce Bill and Against the Decriminalization of Adultery and Concubinage,” Villegas said that while it is not easy to make relationships last, learning how to work out differences – and …

  • DND holds off infra dev’t in Pag-Asa
    DND holds off infra dev’t in Pag-Asa

    The defense department is holding off repairs and other planned infrastructure projects on Pag-Asa Island, one of seven islets and two reefs occupied by Filipino troops in the disputed Spratly Islands. Earlier, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario pointed out that the maintenance and repair of facilities in Pag-Asa Island are not covered by the Declaration of Conduct (DOC) of parties involved in the West Philippine Sea territorial disputes. “Repair and maintenance is okay but before …

  • Blackout to hit 5 Aurora towns
    Blackout to hit 5 Aurora towns

    An 11-hour power outage will hit five towns in Aurora on Tuesday, the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP) announced yesterday. The NGCP said Baler, Dingalan, San Luis, Ma. Aurora and Dipaculao would be affected by the blackout. The NGCP said parts of Nueva Ecija and Aurora were hit by a power interruption yesterday due to the tripping of the Cabanatuan-Baler 69kV line. …

POLL

Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Loading...
Poll Choice Options