Middle East

Syria grounds military-age men

BEIRUT: Syrian authorities battling a yearlong uprising against President Bashar Assad have tightened restrictions on men of military age leaving the country, Syrian and Lebanese officials said Monday.

The restrictions issued Saturday require men aged between 18 and 42 to get permission from military recruitment and immigration departments before travelling, the officials said.

Lebanese officials at the Masnaa border crossing between Beirut and Damascus said the number of people leaving Syria had fallen by 60 percent since the regulations were announced two days ago.

Meanwhile, in an appeal to minorities who fear for their place in a post-Assad Syria, the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, a major component of the country’s opposition, said it would work for a democratic state if Assad fell.

Brotherhood official Ali Bayanouni told reporters in Turkey that the group would not monopolize power.

“The regime now is accusing the Muslim Brotherhood of trying to control Syria alone and of having aims of being the only rulers of Syria in the future,” he said Sunday. “We are here today to reassure everyone that we will cooperate with all the other partners in the Syrian opposition to build a new Syria, a free Syria, a democratic Syria, and we will not attempt to be the only ruling party in Syria.”

The group issued a 10-point statement on the future of Syria, calling for a modern, democratic state with equality among all citizens and respect for human rights.

Turkey and Norway closed their embassies in Syria Monday, further isolating Assad, whose forces bombarded the battered city of Homs with mortars in an effort to quell unrest.

Video showed towering flames and thick black smoke billowing from at least two locations in Homs, Syria’s third-largest city, which has become the epicenter for the yearlong revolt. Residents accused the army of indiscriminate shelling.

“Every day the shelling goes on. The regime is wiping out the city,” said Waleed Fares, an activist in Homs.

Sixteen people died in clashes around the country, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, with eight dying in the central city of Homs. Two of the dead were children, the group added.

Syria has formally responded to a peace plan put forward by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, his office said Monday. “Mr. Annan is studying it and will respond very shortly,” his spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said in a statement from Geneva.

Annan, who presented Damascus with his peace proposals earlier this month, said Monday the crisis could not carry on forever but added that he had not set any deadline for a resolution of the conflict.

“It is not practical to put forth timetables and timelines when you haven’t got agreement from the parties,” Annan told journalists in Moscow, where he met Sunday with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

“This cannot be allowed to drag on indefinitely and, as I have told the parties on the ground, they cannot resist the transformational winds that are blowing,” he added before flying off for top level meetings in China Tuesday.

Annan’s six-point peace proposal calls for a cease-fire, political dialogue between the government and opposition, and full humanitarian access for aid agencies.

Syria says it is battling foreign-backed terrorist groups and the official news agency Sana reported Monday that troops had foiled an attempt by armed infiltrators trying to enter across the Turkish border near the village of Darkoush. It said an unknown number had been killed and wounded. Activists said two Algerian men with British nationalities came under fire in the area; one was killed and another wounded.

There were conflicting reports on whether they were journalists or had joined the rebel fighters.

In Harasta, a town near the capital Damascus, rebels attacked a military bus and killed three soldiers, the SOHR said, citing its network of activists inside Syria.

Heavy clashes in the province of Hama also continued, activists said. They uploaded footage of grey smoke billowing out of an old castle amid the crackling sound of gunfire in the town of Qalaat al-Madyaq, believed to be in rebel hands.

Videos and reports from inside Syria are impossible to verify as the government has restricted access to journalists and human rights workers.

Sana news agency said soldiers had killed “six of the most dangerous wanted terrorists” in a raid in the southern province of Deraa. They also thwarted a bid to blow up the Al-Najih Bridge on the Damascus-Deraa highway, it said.

Security appears to be fraying in many parts of Syria despite repeated army offensives to regain rebellious territory. Activists said the government was struggling to hold such areas for long, with rebels swiftly re-emerging, as they have in Homs.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 27, 2012, on page 1.




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