- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 20, 2012

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian soldiers backed by tanks pushed into Deir el-Zour on Tuesday and seized control of the eastern city after brief clashes with rebel forces that had held it for a few days, anti-regime activists said.

Activist Osama Mansour said government troops and armored cars entered the city, which is about 60 miles from the Iraqi border, from four sides, sparking short gunbattles with fighters from the Free Syrian Army.

Mr. Mansour, reached by telephone in Deir el-Zour, said the rebels quit fighting and took shelter in homes and apartments, fearing that protracted clashes would destroy the city, as has happened in other towns and districts once held by the rebels.

“They knew they could not hold control of the neighborhoods, so they decided to stop fighting, knowing that the regime would bring in heavy weapons and kill many civilians,” he said.


The rebels also lacked guns and ammunition, he said.

Rami Abdul-Rahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on an activist network in Syria, said the rebels faced little resistance when they took the city a few days ago. But over the past three days, the regime attacked some of their hideouts in the Omal neighborhood, killing more than 25 fighters.

On Tuesday, government forces rolled into the rest of the neighborhoods, and rebels fought only briefly before retreating.

No one was killed in Tuesday’s clashes, both activists said.

The year-old uprising against President Bashar Assad’s autocratic regime has grown increasingly militarized with many in the opposition taking up arms to protect their towns and attack regime forces.

But the loose-knit Free Syrian Army is overwhelmingly outgunned by Mr. Assad’s large, professional army and has proved unable to control territory.

The United Nations says more than 8,000 people have been killed, many of them unarmed protesters.

The Syrian government has barred most media from working in the country, and activists’ claims could not be verified independently.