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“This terrible situation has no simple answers,” Panetta told the panel.

After seizing Baba Amr from the rebels, regime forces appeared to be turning their attention to other rebellious areas, including the northern province of Idlib near Turkey. The shift suggested that the Syrian military is unable to launch large operations simultaneously, even though the security services remain largely strong and loyal.

According to witnesses, Syrian troops shelled the northern villages in Idlib on Wednesday.

AP writers Ben Hubbard in Beirut, Frank Jordans and John Heilprin in Geneva, Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, Donna Cassata in Washington and Nebi Qena in Yayladagi, Turkey, contributed to this report.