Syrian forces have overrun the northwest city of Idlib and rebels have fled, an activist said Wednesday, giving sharp momentum to a push by the Damascus regime to crush an increasingly armed revolt, as 44 people were reportedly killed across the country.
"Since last night there has been no more fighting," said Noureddin al-Abdo, an activist in Idlib, confirming earlier reports by a government newspaper that Idlib had fallen after a four-day assault by regime forces.
"The (rebel) Free Syrian Army (FSA) has withdrawn and regime forces have stormed the entire city and are carrying out house-to-house searches," said Abdo.
The army launched its assault on the rebellious province of Idlib near the Turkish border on Saturday, bombarding the city of the same name and outlying regions in a bid to root out armed insurgents.
"The FSA preferred to withdraw because everyone knows it cannot resist the army," Abdo said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fierce clashes between regime forces and rebel troops were ongoing in the Jabal al-Zawiya district of the province and at least four people had died on Wednesday.
"Seventeen soldiers were killed late Tuesday after armed rebels attacked checkpoints in the village of al-Barra, in Jabal al-Zawiya," said the Britain-based group.
The capture of Idlib comes two weeks after regime forces stormed the Baba Amr rebel stronghold in the central city of Homs following a month-long blitz that left hundreds dead.
It also comes as the regime of President Bashar Assad responded to U.N.-Arab League proposals to end a year-long revolt in Syria that has killed more than 8,500 people, mostly civilians, according to activists.
A spokesman for U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, who met with Assad in Damascus over the weekend and made "concrete" proposals to halt the bloodshed, said the unspecified Syrian response was being considered.
Meanwhile, opposition-affiliated Sham News Network reported that security forces killed 44 people across the country, identifying 16 of them who it said were killed in Idlib alone.
Residents managed to "pull them out of the streets after the shelling and heavy gunfire abated," SNN said.
Amnesty International on Wednesday said detainees in Syria's crackdown on dissent faced a "nightmarish world of systematic torture" that has set the country back decades.
"The scale of torture and other ill-treatment in Syria has risen to a level not witnessed for years and is reminiscent of the dark era of the 1970s and 1980s," the rights watchdog said in a report based on testimony from survivors who fled to Jordan.
The experience "is now very similar to that of detainees under former president Hafez Assad -- a nightmarish world of systemic torture," said Ann Harrison of Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa program, referring to Bashar's father.
Syria's leadership has consistently argued that the uprising shaking the country was the work of "armed terrorist groups" backed by foreign powers.
It has also rejected any negotiations with the opposition while pushing forth with reforms deemed a "farce" by the international community.
Assad on Tuesday issued a decree setting May 7 as the date for parliamentary elections under a new constitution adopted in February.
But Washington immediately dismissed the planned vote as "ridiculous".
"Parliamentary elections for a rubber-stamp parliament in the middle of the kind of violence that we're seeing across the country -- it's ridiculous," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
They would be the third such polls since Assad came to power in 2000, but the first under a multi-party system as authorized under the new charter.
According to the U.N. refugee agency, an estimated 30,000 people have fled the fighting in Syria to neighboring countries and another 200,000 have been displaced inside the country.
The majority of the refugees are in neighboring Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.
Rights watchdogs said this week that the Syrian regime had planted in recent weeks landmines near the borders with Turkey and Lebanon, along routes used by refugees fleeing the country.
Russia, accused of having shielded its ally Syria, said on Tuesday it will press Damascus to accept international monitors who could observe the implementation of a "simultaneous" ceasefire.
"We must not have a situation in which the government is required to leave the cities and villages while the armed groups are not made to do the same," said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Moscow.
Russia and China vetoed two past U.N. Security Council draft resolutions condemning Assad for the violence and have expressed reservations about a new U.S.-backed version.
|Copyright © 2012 Naharnet.com. All Rights Reserved.||http://www.naharnet.com/stories/en/33296|