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Wednesday, June 1, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

Syrian protesters return fire on Assad's troops

NICOSIA — For the first time, Syrian protesters have used firearms in the revolt against the regime of President Bashar Assad.


Opposition sources said protesters employed a range of live fire weapons against Assad troops in several Sunni cities in Syria, Middle East Newsline reported. They said residents of the cities of Rastan and Talbiseh fired rocket-propelled grenades and submachine guns toward Syrian military and security forces.

"Many of these weapons were obtained from soldiers who defected or had access to Syrian military arsenals," an opposition source said.

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The sources said the first reported use of weapons by protesters took place on May 30 in the Homs province in which at least four civilians were killed. The Sunni-dominated province has been a key target of the Assad regime in its attempt to quell the 10-week rebellion.

The regime has often asserted that Al Qaida-aligned gangs were attacking the military and police. But the opposition sources said this marked the first time that Syrian civilians used guns to defend themselves from the daily assault by the regime. About 1,200 civilians were said to have been killed since the protests against Assad began in March.

The sources said Assad forces have sought to avoid armed clashes with the protesters. They said protesters kept the security forces out of the center of Rastan and Talbiseh for more than a day. The army was said to have used heavy machine guns and artillery in Rastan.

The extent of the armed resistance remains unknown. The sources said in most cases individual Syrians fired their weapons to scare off Assad's forces. In other instances, Sunnis organized armed neighborhood watch squads to prevent raids by the military and police.

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