At least 30 people – including 23 Syrian soldiers – have been killed in overnight battles in and around the city of Rastan, an opposition stronghold in central Syria’s Homs province, activists say.
Despite a UN-backed ceasefire that was supposed to enter into force over a month ago, heavy army shelling of Rastan – which has slipped in and out of government control over the last 15 months – began on Sunday and intensified overnight. Rebel activists said the attack had destroyed the city and killed at least nine people, including a local rebel commander, opposition sources told Reuters news agency.
Fighting on the outskirts of the city followed as government forces stepped up their assault, during which the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) killed 23 troops, captured around 15 soldiers and destroyed three armored personnel carriers, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group.
Syrian state media did not immediately confirm the casualties, but if the numbers are accurate the attack would represent one of the worst losses of life for the security forces in the 14-month-long uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, The Daily Telegraph reports.
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The clashes in Rastan, along with a separate army attack on the suburb of Douma, north of Damascus, and a raid on Sunni village north of Hama, are further evidence that the six-point peace plan mediated by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan is not holding, despite the presence of UN 189 observers in Syria, out of a total of 300 intended for deployment.
In an attempt to ratchet up the pressure on the government, the EU has also imposed around round of sanctions on Syria, according to the BBC.
No official details of the newly agreed set of measures – the 15th so far – have been released, but an EU diplomat said the bloc had agreed to an assets freeze and visa ban on two firms and three individuals believed to be backing the Syrian regime financially.
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