Rebels kill 23 Syrian soldiers

Rebels kill 23 Syrian soldiers

No political alternative in sight as Opposition snubs Arab talks

Syrian rebels killed 23 government soldiers on Monday, activists said, and efforts to find a viable political alternative to Bashar al-Assad faltered when an opposition group said it would boycott Arab-backed talks to unite its splintered ranks.

The latest bloodshed centred in the town of Rastan, where opposition sources said President Assad’s forces killed nine other people, further unravelling a month-old UN ceasefire pact that is being overseen by international monitors.

Rastan, 180 km north of Damascus, has slipped in and out of government control during a 14-month-old uprising in which peaceful protest has given way to a sectarian-tinged insurgency that answers Assad's violent bid to crush unrest.

Opposition activists said the 23 soldiers were killed during clashes at dawn that followed heavy army shelling of Rastan.

“Shells and rockets have been hitting the town since 3 am (midnight GMT) at a rate of one a minute. Rastan has been destroyed,” said a member of the rebel Free Syrian Army in Rastan.

He said that among those killed was Ahmad Ayoub, an FSA commander whose fighters were battling army forces he said were comprised of elite units and members of Military Intelligence.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebels destroyed three armoured personnel carriers and seized two others, capturing around 15 soldiers.

The Syrian official news agency SANA said Abdelaziz al-Hafl, a tribal notable in the oil-producing province of Deir al-Zor, was assassinated on Monday along with his son.

Opposition sources said Hafl was the 17th pro-Assad figure slain in the eastern province in recent months.

A member of Hafl’s tribe said he had been repeatedly warned by insurgents to stop cooperating with the secret police, “but he did not heed the warnings and was bumped off today”.

There was no independent confirmation of any of the reports of fighting and killing from inside Syria, which has severely limited media access over the course of the uprising.

Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority is at the forefront of the revolt against the authoritarian Assad, whose minority Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam. Assad’s government says it is fighting a terrorist attempt to divide Syria.

No to talks

The exile group that claims the right to speak for the political opposition to Assad, the Syrian National Council (SNC), said it would not join Arab League-brokered talks set for Wednesday and Thursday aimed at healing its divisions.

“The SNC will not be going to the meeting in Cairo because it (the Arab League) has not invited the group as an official body but as individual members,” Ahmed Ramadan said.
Political jockeying within the SNC has prevented it from gaining full international recognition.

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