Mar 15 2013
The chief of Syria's main, Western-backed rebel group has marked the second anniversary of the uprising against President Bashar Assad by pledging to continue fighting until the "criminal" regime is gone.
General Salim Idris, the head of the Supreme Military Council, called on Syrian soldiers to join the rebels in a "fight for freedom and democracy" and said that his Free Syrian Army fighters "will not give up."
In Damascus, authorities beefed up security measures as rebel groups called for stepped-up attacks on government troops and state institutions on the anniversary. The revolt against Mr Assad's authoritarian rule began in March 2011 with protests in the southern city of Daraa, after troops arrested teenagers who scrawled anti-regime graffiti on a wall. It has since morphed into a civil war with an estimated 70,000 people killed, according to the UN.
"We want (a) Syria where every Syrian can live in peace and liberty. This is our dream, this is what we are fighting for," Gen Idris said in a video address in an undisclosed location in northern Syria that is under rebel control.
"I know our battle is not so easy. We have to fight against planes, tanks and huge missiles," Idris said. "But our will is still very strong. We will not stop until this criminal regime has gone." Gen Idris, 55, studied in Germany and taught electronics at a Syrian military college before defecting to the rebel side in July.
In the past year, the rebels have made significant advances on the battlefield, capturing large swathes of land outside of major cities and controlling some areas in the northern city of Aleppo, Syria's largest city. They have also overrun major military bases, captured dams on the Euphrates River and came within a mile of the centre of Damascus, the seat of Assad's power.
However, they have long complained that their side is hampered by the failure of world powers to provide heavier arms to help them battle Assad's better-equipped military and his airpower. The international community is reluctant to send weapons partly because of fears they may fall into the hands of extremists who have been gaining influence among the rebels.
Last month, US Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the Obama administration was giving an additional 60 million dollars in assistance to Syria's political opposition and would, for the first time, provide non-lethal aid directly to the rebels. None of the aid, which is to include an undetermined amount of food rations and medical supplies, has been sent yet.
Today, some anti-government groups called for stepped-up attacks to mark the uprising anniversary. The banned Islamist Muslim Brotherhood group urged supporters for a "week of action" on the occasion but didn't specify what it would do.
Also today, at least eight Syrians were killed and 29 were injured when the bus they were travelling in from Syria overturned in the mountains in central Lebanon. The bus was headed to the Lebanese capital, Beirut. It was not immediately known whether the Syrians were refugees fleeing the violence at home.