Major battle in Syria; shops shut by strike
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis
Mon Dec 12, 2011 2:40am EST
(Reuters) - "Syrian troops and army defectors have fought one of the biggest battles in Syria's nine-month uprising while a protest strike shut businesses in a new gesture of civil disobedience, residents and activists said.
Arab foreign ministers will meet on Saturday to discuss a response to Syria's conditional acceptance of an Arab peace plan aimed at ending its crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, Egypt's MENA news agency said, citing an Arab diplomat.
And in a major international development likely to raise Western pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, France's Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Paris believed Syria was behind attacks that wounded French peacekeepers in neighbouring Lebanon on Friday.
In Sunday's fighting, Syrian troops mainly from the 12th Armoured Brigade based in Isra, 40 km (25 miles) from the southern 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.
"For the first time we have seen business close in multiple districts in Damascus and spread to most of the suburbs and provinces. The aim is to reach civil disobedience that encompasses all sectors and forces the regime down," said Rima Fleihan, a member of the opposition Syrian National Council.
"The cost will be more human lives but I am afraid it is less costly than an armed uprising and the regime dragging the country into a Libya-type scenario, she said..."
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