Syrian Forces Try to Seize Rebel-Held Areas South of Capital

Syrian government forces started an offensive against rebels south of Damascus in an effort to reverse territorial losses around the capital as President Bashar al-Assad’s international isolation increased.

Forces loyal to Assad attempted to storm Daraya and added reinforcements to the area, the U.K.based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on its Facebook page today. Rebels seized an infantry academy near the northern city of Aleppo, Al Jazeera television reported without saying where it got the information.

Assad’s military has lost control of barracks, heavy weapons, oilfields and roads across the country. Fighters struggling to topple the government in Damascus have control of mainly Sunni Muslim areas stretching from the northeastern outskirts of the capital to the southwest of the city.

Syrian forces killed 45 civilians today, including 16 in Damascus and its suburbs, the Observatory said an e-mailed statement. At least 22 soldiers died in the fighting, the group said.

European Union leaders yesterday agreed to look at all options to help Syria’s opposition remove what they called Assad's “illegitimate regime.”

‘Illegitimate Regime’

“Inaction and indifference are not options,” U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters after an EU summit in Brussels yesterday. “We’re saying all options, all options, should be considered in order to help the opposition and enable greater support to the protection of civilians. Nothing is off the table.” He refused to be drawn on possible military action.

Using their strongest language yet, EU leaders said in a statement that they’re “appalled” by the conflict in Syria, where Assad’s government has been fighting rebels since March 2011, with the number of dead approaching 50,000. French and U.K. proposals to alter the arms embargo on Syria to allow for possible military support to the opposition will be discussed by EU foreign ministers on Jan. 31, the leaders agreed.

The Syrian army pursued “armed terrorist groups” in the Damascus countryside and killed and injured many, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency said, citing an unidentified government official. The government describes rebels fighting the government as terrorists.

Patriot Batteries

Assad is increasingly vulnerable, French President Francois Hollande told reporters yesterday. Cameron said the Syrian situation is not the same as that in Libya, where military intervention assisted the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi last year.

“Syria is different to Libya; there are extra complications and difficulties,” the British premier said when asked if there would be military action. “The conversation now is about what more we should do. We can’t go on as we are.”

More than 100 countries, including the U.K. and France, have recognized Syria’s main opposition group as the legitimate representative of the country’s people, cementing its status as a government-in-waiting. They warned Assad that using his stockpiles of chemical weapons would invite military action.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta signed an order allowing the deployment of two Patriot anti-missile batteries as well as 400 U.S. personnel to Turkey, Pentagon spokesman George Little said yesterday.

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