Syrian rebel forces withdrew from the Bab Amr district of the central city of Homs today in what they said was a “tactical withdrawal.” Government forces quickly moved in and say they are now in control of the district, which has been the target of heavy shelling for 27 days. Activists reports that at least 27 people in Homs have died so far on Thursday.
Reporting from neighboring Lebanon, the BBC‘s Jim Muir said that the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA)’s withdrawal is “obviously by agreement between the two sides, as has happened elsewhere in Syria, to avoid a final showdown.” According to a statement posted online in the name of the Baba Amr brigade of the FSA, the fighters did not have enough weapons to protect the remaining 4,000 residents of Bab Amr. The statement also warned the government not to take revenge on the civilians who remain in Bab Amr.
In an effort to coordinate the various anti-government groups that have formed during the Syrian uprising, the exile political opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) announced that it is forming a military bureau. However, the FSA, which is the largest military group, is refusing to accept the SNC’s authority in a sign, says the BBC, of “evidence of deep splits within the opposition.”
The continuing deaths of civilians and the unrest throughout Syria certainly bring into question the results of a February 26 referendum on a draft constitution. The state news agency reported that the referendum had won 89.4 percent approval for a new constitution that calls for the creation of other political parties besides the ruling Ba’ath Party. The president would be limited to two seven-year terms, but this change would be instituted only after President Bashar al-Assad’s current term expires in 2014
The foreign ministers of the six Gulf Arab states are planning to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to “express disappointment with the Russian stance.” Russia and China have vetoed two United Nations Security Council resolutions demanding that Assad step down and have just voted against a UN proposal to accuse Syria of “systematic violations” against its citizens and requesting that aid agencies be able to enter the country.
As the New York Times says, while the Syrian army has “overwhelming strength in arms,” it has nonetheless been “hard-pressed to deploy all the units it needs to put down the fires of the uprising” that has become endemic throughout the country. The government seems to be following a strategy of addressing rebellious cities one at a time and is now expected to turn its attention to suppressing the city of Hama and Idlib in the north; the last-mentioned city’s villages have said that they are free of the government.
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