“We still need some help from the air,” Najjar said, referring to the rebels’ lack of heavy weaponry. In past months, the rebels have proved adept at attacking Syrian army checkpoints and small bases, but they’ve been unable to dislodge the military from larger installations, from which it shells and rockets rebel-held territory across the country.
Rebel control of some border crossings between Syria and Turkey and Iraq appeared to be of questionable strategic value. Iraq reported that it had sealed its borders with Syria, and Syrians in Jordan said that country largely had shut its borders, allowing in only Syrians who could prove they’d been in Jordan previously or who own property in the country.
Syrian activists in Lebanon said a tent camp had been set up near the main border crossing between Beirut and Damascus to accommodate those fleeing the violence. But the Syrian military appeared to have closed most smuggling routes between Syria and Lebanon, the closest border to Homs.
There’s no official tally of deaths in the conflict, but July clearly is headed to being the conflict’s deadliest month since the anti-Assad uprising began 16 months ago. As of Sunday, the Syrian Network for Human Rights had recorded 2,033 deaths in July. It recorded 2,336 deaths in all of June.
The Syrian government news agency, SANA, which for months had been issuing a daily tally of state funerals for Syrian soldiers and police officers, last published a list of the dead on June 26. Up to that point, June had been the bloodiest month for the Syrian military, with 649 soldiers reported killed.
Other sources indicated that recent fighting has taken a heavy military toll as well, including more than two dozen soldiers and police officers who were executed after rebels captured them.
News agencies quoted Iraqi officials last week as saying that Iraqi troops stationed at the Syrian border had witnessed the deaths of 22 soldiers who’d surrendered when rebels took a border crossing point, and rebels in the town of Al Tal, north of Damascus, told a McClatchy correspondent that they’d executed eight of more than 40 security personnel they’d captured in fighting there. Twenty-five of the captives were freed and the rest, all members of the Alawite religious minority, were being held for a possible prisoner exchange, said the rebels, who are Sunni Muslims.
There were conflicting reports from the country’s Kurdish north that the Syrian government had reached an agreement with Kurdish militiamen and political parties to withdraw from majority Kurdish areas, including Qamishli, the largest city in northeastern Syria. If that’s true, the agreement would free those forces to combat rebel units in other parts of the country.
Syria’s Kurdish minority, which makes up about 10 percent of its population, has largely avoided taking a side in the conflict. Many Kurds remain suspicious of the government and the rebels, and videos of anti-government demonstrations there often prominently feature Kurdish flags in addition to the one the rebels wave.
Massoud Barzani, the president of Iraq’s semi-independent Kurdish region, told the satellite television channel Al Jazeera on Sunday that Kurdish Syrian fighters have been training in Iraq for months and could be deployed to Kurdish cities in Syria. He also said that some parts of northern Syria were already under the control of Kurdish fighters, after the Syrian military had withdrawn, and that Syrian Kurdish groups had won an agreement from the rebels not to attack the Syrian government in Kurdish-controlled territory.
McClatchy special correspondent Austin Tice in Al Tal, Syria, contributed to this report.