Syria: 23 Soldiers Killed in Fighting

Posted May 14th, 2012 at 8:40 pm (UTC-5)
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Activists say Syrian rebels killed 23 soldiers in clashes near the city of Rastan, in one of the deadliest days for loyalist forces in the country's 14-month, anti-government uprising.

Monday's fighting broke out after the town, about 25 kilometers north of Homs, suffered heavy shelling from the Syrian army. Several people were wounded and several army vehicles destroyed during the clashes.

The fighting further undercut a month-old cease-fire that has been strained by consistent clashes between rebels and government forces and attacks on civilians by Syrian troops. Nearly 200 United Nations monitors are in Syria trying to curb the violence.

The United States, Europe and Gulf Arab states want Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, but his ally Russia has blocked more robust action against Syria in the U.N. Security Council.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov defended Moscow's weapons deliveries to Syria in the face of Western criticism, saying government forces need to defend themselves against rebels receiving arms from abroad.

In Brussels, the European Union extended visa bans and asset freezes Monday on three new people and two entities associated with the Syrian government. The EU boycott list now includes 128 Assad supporters and 43 Syrian companies, banks and other organizations.

Meanwhile, sectarian violence stemming from the Syrian conflict continued to spill over into neighboring Lebanon for a third straight day Monday. At least five people have been killed and 100 wounded in the port of Tripoli – Lebanon's second largest city – since gunbattles erupted late Saturday.

The recent clashes were sparked by last week's arrest of Lebanese national Shadi Mawlawi, an outspoken critic of Mr. Assad, who was charged with belonging to an armed “terrorist” group.

On Sunday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 25 people – 18 civilians, five soldiers and two anti-government rebels – were killed as violence ripped through various Syrian flashpoint areas.

The U.N. says more than 9,000 have died in the 14-month conflict. Violence by Mr. Assad's forces and his armed foes has continued despite an April 12 cease-fire and the presence of a U.N. monitoring mission.