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Wednesday, April 20, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

Syrian troops raid opposition stronghold in North; Hundreds reported missing

NICOSIA — In the biggest operation in nearly 30 years, the regime of President Bashar Assad has launched a major offensive against Syria's largest Islamic stronghold.


The Syrian opposition reported a raid by thousands of Syrian troops and security forces at the northern city of Homs on April 19. Opposition sources said up to 200 people were killed as security forces opened fire on protesters.

"The fate of some 5,000 detainees remains unknown, and many believe several hundreds may have been killed and buried without the knowledge of their next of kin," the opposition Reform Party of Syria said.

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RPS said the attack on Homs included the Syrian 4th Army, led by Assad's younger brother Maher. The opposition said scores of Russian-origin T-72 main battle tanks were operating on the outskirts of Homs and blocking entrances to the city, Middle East Newsline reported.

The Interior Ministry has banned all demonstrations in Homs, the third largest city and regarded as the leading Islamic stronghold in Syria. At the same time, the opposition said the Syrian Army has gathered Sunni clerics and warned that protesters would be shot on sight.

The Assad regime has claimed that Al Qaida-aligned gunmen were attacking Syrian police in the Homs suburb of Talbisa and killed a senior officer, identified as Col. Mohammed Abdul Khaddour. Officials said the gunmen also blocked the highway between Homs and Aleppo and were firing on military patrols.

Syria also reported the capture of weapons smuggled from Iraq toward Homs. Syrian Customs Agency director-general Mustapha Bikai said the shipment consisted of automatic weapons, sniper rifles, night-vision sights, rocket-propelled grenade launches and ammunition. The Iraqi driver of the intercepted truck was arrested and confessed on Syrian television that he received $20,000 for each weapons transport.

"I entered Syria through Al Tanf border, crossing with a large shipment of weapons that included various kinds of advanced machine guns, automatic rifles, sniper rifles, pistols, night-vision scopes, grenade launchers and large quantities of various kinds of ammunition and machine gun magazines," the truck driver told Syrian satellite television. "I don't know the person I was supposed to deliver the weapons to."

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