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Middle East
Syrian troops retake opposition stronghold
Government forces dislodge opposition fighters from Idlib as president says parliamentary polls will be held on May 7.
Last Modified: 14 Mar 2012 06:03

Syrian government forces have re-established full control in the northern city of Idlib following days of deadly clashes with opposition fighters, sources within the country have told Al Jazeera.

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The military victory came was Syrian President Bashar al-Assad signed a decree stating that parliamentary elections would be held on May 7, and sent a response to Kofi Annan on the UN-Arab League special envoy's proposals to end the conflict sweeping across the country.

Government troops had waged an assault on the Idlib province near the Turkish border with a view to retake the city since March 9, intermittently shelling built-up areas and spraying houses with machinegun fire in a bid to dislodge anti-government fighters.

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Anti-government fighters said troops had killed dozens of people, dumping their bodies in a mosque.

Violence was also reported in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor and security forces shelled Syria's third largest city, Homs, as the year-long uprising against Assad's rule increasingly resembled a civil war.

Spurred by the escalating death toll and tales of heavy-handed government response, the UN said that it would soon deploy human rights monitors in countries bordering Syria to collect witness testimony on "atrocities" committed in the country.

"We will be sending monitors for documentation of atrocities in bordering countries later this week," Kyung-wha Kang, Deputy UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told the UN Human Rights Council during a debate on the crisis in Syria.

Damascus responds to Annan

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Kofi Annan, who met Assad in Damascus over the weekend, said that the envoy had received a response from the Syrian president over what Annan had called "concrete proposals" to halt the violence.

"Their responses are being considered," Ahmad Fawzi, the spokesman, told the AFP news agency, declining to comment on the substance of the Syrian response. Annan is expected to make a statement later on Wednesday in Geneva.

Al Jazeera reports how snipers have been
targeting residents at random in Idlib

It was unclear whether the announcement of parliamentary elections by Assad was in response to Annan's proposals.

The former UN chief was in the Turkish capital Ankara on Tuesday, where he met a delegation from the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) .

Meanwhile, a prominent Syrian opposition figure quit the main political group outside the country on Tuesday, saying many resignations would follow in the coming days.

Haitham al-Maleh's departure from the Syrian National Council may severely hit efforts to unify a splintered opposition struggling to bring down Assad, especially if followed by a wave of others.

"I have resigned from the SNC because there is a lot of chaos in the group and not a lot of clarity over what they can accomplish right now. We have not gotten very far in working to arm the rebels," he said.

CIA chief in Turkey

David Petraeus, head of the US Central Intelligence Agency, met Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, on Tuesday for closed-door talks focusing on the crisis across the border in Syria.

TJ Grubisha, spokesperson US embassy, said Petraeus met with Erdogan and Hakan Fidan, head of the Turkish National Intelligence Organisation and "discussed areas of mutual concern, including regional security issues and counter-terrorism co-operation".

"They foresee even closer and more fruitful co-operation on the region's most pressing issues in the coming months," he said.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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