More than 10,000 soldiers have deserted the Syrian army, sources say, with as many as half the conscripts not reporting in the last three call-ups.
According to Western intelligence agencies, even though the top brass is still loyal to President Bashar Assad, lower-level officers are deserting in large numbers, and in some cases, whole units have deserted en masse.
The army is considered the main factor safeguarding Assad’s regime, after mass protests began in the south in March and spread throughout the country, inspired by the demonstrations elsewhere in the Arab world.
On Tuesday, at least 73 people were killed in Syria in clashes between the army and opposition, most of them in Homs in the west and Idlib in the northwest. The 73 dead added to the 100 who were killed on Monday, among them 14 soldiers ambushed by opposition forces, human rights groups said.
The groups added that Assad’s forces were transferring wounded opposition activists from hospitals to army bases to prevent them from testifying to Arab League observers expected to arrive under a deal struck on Monday.
The observers would ensure that the army and opposition adhere to a cease-fire and end the violence.
A new law imposes the death penalty on anyone “smuggling arms to be used in terrorist activity.”