Major battle in Syria; shops shut by strike

Sun Dec 11, 2011 9:09pm GMT

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

AMMAN (Reuters) - Army defectors fought government troops Sunday in one of the biggest battles of Syria's nine-month uprising, and a strike shut businesses in a new gesture of civil disobedience, residents and activists said.

In a major international development likely to raise Western pressure on President Bashar al-Assad, France's Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Paris believed Syria was behind attacks that wounded French peacekeepers in neighbouring Lebanon Friday.

In Sunday's fighting, Syrian troops mainly from the 12th Armoured Brigade based in Isra, 40-km from the border with Jordan, stormed the nearby town of Busra al-Harir.

A housewife in Busra who did not want to be named told Reuters by telephone that the town was being hit by machinegun fire from tanks. Her children were crying.

The sound of explosions and heavy machineguns was heard there and in Lujah, an area of rocky hills north of the town, where defectors from the army have been hiding and attacking military supply lines, residents and activists said.

"Lujah has been the safest area for defectors to hide because it is difficult for tanks and infantry to infiltrate. The region has caves and secret passageways and extends all the way to Damascus countryside," said an activist, who gave his name as Abu Omar.

Opposition activists said they had shut down much of the capital and other towns with a strike, the biggest walkout by workers since the protest movement demanding Assad's removal erupted in March.

Syria has barred most independent journalists, making it difficult to gauge the extent of participation in the strike. Official state media made no mention of it.   Continued...

Anti-government protesters carry the coffin of Abdul Haleem Baqour during his funeral in Hula near Homs December 10, 2011. REUTERS/Handout
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