Dubai: There are growing signs that the current unrest in Syria is sliding into armed civil strife as the government uses the army to regain control over restive cities.
Troops have retaken control of the central city of Rastan after sending in 250 tanks to quell clashes between the army and deserters, human rights activists said yesterday.
"The Syrian army has taken complete control of Rastan, and 50 tanks left on Sunday," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said of the town in Homs province, 160km north of Damascus.
"Many houses have been destroyed there and the humanitarian situation is very bad," the Britain-based rights watchdog said.Activists in the city said that 130 people were killed in the fight to regain control over the small city. Ten soldiers were killed from the defector's Khalid Bin Al Waleed Brigade of the self-proclaimed Free Syrian Army.
Prominent Syrian activist Michel Kilo warned of a full-scale war in the country, if the government continued to deploy armed forces to quell protests.
The crackdown on unarmed protesters over the past six months has encouraged many soldiers and officers to defect and the government's irresponsible behaviour has been pushing the uprising to the point of fighting back with arms, Kilo told Gulf News in a phone interview.
"That's what happened in Rastan in the past five days. Every house in the 50,000-people city was attacked by the security forces in the hunt for defectors," he said.
Syrian political sociologist Burhan Galiun echoed Kilo's sentiments, saying President Bashar Al Assad was pushing the country towards civil war.
However, Riad Ismat, the Minister of Culture, dismissed the likelihood of civil war erupting in Syria. "Civil war usually erupts in countries that thrive on sectarianism and have weak central governments, both of which do not apply to Syria," he said.
The New York Times also reported that signs of civil war are becoming very evident where protesters are armed and calling themselves revolutionaries in Homs. According to people on the ground, there has been a decisive shift in the past few weeks and the largely peaceful protests could turn into an armed struggle.
Homs is a microcosm of Syrian society with a majority of Sunnis and a minority of Christians and Alawites and it seems the unrest has frayed ties among these communities. Men in some parts of the city carry weapons and people rarely venture into areas of another's sect, the newspaper said.
However, it is not clear if this trend is specific to Homs or if it could spread throughout the country. According to Omar Al Homsi, a member of the coordination committee of the revolution in Syria, nearly 10,000 soldiers and officers have defected.
— With inputs from Sami Moubayed, Correspondent