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Thursday, July 8, 2010     GET REAL

Syrian troops ovewhelmed by diarrhea epidemic, heat wave, budget shortfall

LONDON — Syria was said to have halted military exercises amid a troop epidemic.


The Syrian opposition has asserted that President Bashar Assad ordered the suspension of military training. Assad was said to have issued the order in mid-June 2010 amid an epidemic of diarrhea at army camps.

The Syrian military, said to have come under increasing domination by Iran, has not acknowledged the training suspension. The military, with 600,000 troops and more than 2,100 main battle tanks, has been hampered by a severe budget shortfall.

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In Damascus, rumors circulated that the epidemic stemmed from a virus introduced by Israel or another enemy of the Assad regime. But physicians who treated the soldiers were quoted as saying that the diarrhea was the result of food and water contamination linked to a heat wave that struck Syria.

The opposition Web site Nida Syria reported that new recruits were hardest hit by the spread of diarrhea and related digestive disorders, Middle East Newsline reported.

Nida quoted soldiers as saying that their rations were inadequate for the brutal summer training. One recruit said breakfast for eight soldiers consisted of eight olives, four loaves of bread and 200 grams of jam.

An opposition leader, however, did not rule out that the epidemic was the work of a hostile intelligence agency. Farid Ghadry, president of the Reform Party of Syria, said Syria's enemies have multiplied since 2003.

"Any country could have been involved, including European countries who have paid a dear price politically for engaging with Assad with no results to show for," Ghadry said.

"The military hospitals have been receiving hundreds of cases of soldiers being treated for food poisoning," an opposition source said.

Nida quoted soldiers as saying that the epidemic stemmed from the harsh conditions in training, including a shortage of food and water.

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