Syria rebels stop army advance on seized town

Updated 31 October 2012
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Syria rebels stop army advance on seized town

MAARET AL-NUMAN, Syria: Syrian rebels on Saturday blocked army reinforcements advancing toward the strategic town of Maaret Al-Numan which has been under rebel control, an AFP journalist said.
In its bid to retake the town, located in northwest Syria on the road from Damascus to the embattled city of Aleppo, the army used warplanes to bombard Maaret Al-Numan, killing at least two civilians and destroying three homes.
Some 40 military vehicles, including 10 tanks, four-wheel-drive vehicles with mounted machine guns and buses loaded with troops were forced to stop 10 kilometers (six miles) south of the town, rebel fighters told AFP.
The rebel Free Syrian Army used anti-tank rockets and improvised explosives to block the army’s progress.
The FSA seized control of Maaret Al-Numan on Tuesday, pushing the army out into two military bases on its outskirts, and blocking the arrival of new reinforcements to Aleppo.
“The rebels tried again to storm the Wadi Deif army base (on Saturday) ... when they were bombarded by a MiG fighter jet,” said Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman.
Fierce machine gun battles raged near the base.
Regime forces have been launching rockets daily from the two bases on the outskirts, focusing their fire mainly around an underground emergency field hospital.
On Saturday, army shelling injured 20 rebel fighters, the Observatory said.
Some 125,000 people once lived in Maaret Al-Numan and its outskirts but most have fled because of the violence. Alongside the rebels, only a few elderly men remain in the town, guarding homes and shops.
Rebel fighters decorate their motorbikes and the few cars they have with the colors of the Syrian independence flag, which has come to symbolize the revolt against President Bashar Assad’s regime.
Experts say the Syrian army has been worn down by an increase in the number of battlefronts and rebel attacks that have cut major supply routes and undermined the regime’s military superiority.
The army relies mainly on its monopoly on air power to slow the progress of the insurgency.
“The army can try and take back the town from rebel hands temporarily, but it’s clear that it can no longer keep control of it,” said the Observatory’s Abdel Rahman. “The army is genuinely losing control in the north.”
Rebels staged a massive assault on Aleppo, Syria’s traditional commercial hub, on July 20, after they had slowly built up a strong presence in the countryside of Idlib and Aleppo, both neighboring Turkey.
Both the army and rebels have since kept up a continuous flow of reinforcements into Aleppo city, as they bid to take full control.
“There are thousands of rebel fighters all across the northern belt of Syria, mainly in Idlib and Aleppo, and the army has been unable to do much about that,” said Abdel Rahman.


Netanyahu struggles to form government amid talk of new election

Updated 24 min 52 sec ago
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Netanyahu struggles to form government amid talk of new election

  • Israeli leader faces Wednesday deadline to seal deal
  • Coalition talks deadlocked over military conscription bill

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu embarked on Sunday on what he termed a “final effort” to break a deadlock on forming a governing coalition ahead of a Wednesday deadline for a deal.
In power for the past decade, Netanyahu has unexpectedly struggled to seal an agreement with a clutch of right-wing, far-right and ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties that would align with his Likud party and ensure him a fifth term following Israel’s April 9 election.
Divisions between former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu party and United Torah Judaism over a military conscription bill governing exemptions for ultra-Orthodox Jewish seminary students have plunged the coalition talks into stalemate.
Lieberman has long said ultra-Orthodox men must share other Israeli Jews’ burden of mandatory service. Ultra-Orthodox parties say seminary students should be largely exempt from conscription as they have been since Israel was founded in 1948.
A 42-day deadline mandated by law to announce a new government expires on Wednesday, and President Reuven Rivlin can then assign the task to another legislator after consultations with the leaders of political parties.
That could open the way for former military chief Benny Gantz, leader of the centrist Blue and White party, to try. But he would need the backing of some of Likud’s allies to persuade Rivlin he could put together a ruling majority in parliament.
Likud and Blue and White each won 35 of the Knesset’s 120 seats seats in the April ballot, but Netanyahu was seen as having clinched victory because of the right-wing majority that emerged.
In a video published on Twitter on Sunday, Netanyahu said he had invited all of his negotiating partners to meet him in “a final attempt to form a right-wing government” and avoid “an unnecessary election.”
A Likud source said the sessions would be held later in the day and on Monday.
Parallel to the negotiations, Likud announced preparations for a possible national ballot, with November already touted by political analysts as a likely date.
Likud lawmaker Miki Zohar released a draft of a dissolution bill that he said he was submitting to parliament, but no date for a vote in the legislature was announced. Likud said its secretariat would meet on Tuesday “to prepare for an election.”
Some political commentators saw those moves as an attempt to pressure Likud’s negotiating partners into a deal, given the possibility of a voter backlash against another national ballot so soon after the previous one and the uncertainty of the election’s outcome in a country riven by divisions.
The scheduling of an election — and Likud could face an uphill battle for the necessary 61 votes in parliament to pass a dissolution resolution — would pre-empt a coalition-building assignment from Rivlin and ensure Netanyahu remains as interim prime minister until a new government is formed.
Already locked in a legal battle over his potential indictment in three corruption cases, Netanyahu has vowed to remain in office even if he is charged. He denies any wrongdoing and is scheduled to argue against indictment at a pre-trial hearing in October.