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Rebel ammo runs low as Syrian government presses attack

NEAR QUSAYR, Syria — Commanders of the militia that's fighting against the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad say they're running low on ammunition here and won't conduct any offensive operations until they find a way to resupply.

"We are restricting the use of bullets until we get support from outside," said Abed, who's a member of the Free Syrian Army, the loosely organized group of Syrian army defectors and volunteers who've taken up arms against Assad and made repeated overtures for support from the international community. Abed declined to give his last name, fearing retribution from the Syrian government.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar have said they favor arming the rebels, but the fighters here say they've received nothing more than promises of support.

The militiamen spoke as Syrian army tanks entered the neighborhood of Baba Amr, the center of fighting in nearby Homs, the country's third largest city. The army has shelled Baba Amr relentlessly for nearly a month, killing hundreds. Residents of the neighborhood said those who could had fled as the Free Syrian Army continued to fight the military there.

But militia members reportedly clashing with the military probably were able to offer only token resistance. The Free Syrian Army has found it increasingly difficult to get weapons from Lebanon as the Syrian military has increased its presence on the Lebanese-Syrian border.

The difficulty extends to basic supplies. Qusayr, a city of about 15,000, is also under siege, and subjected to intermittent shelling.

"About half of Qusayr is under the control of the FSA," said Abu Abed, a rebel commander who used his nom de guerre, which in Arabic means "father of Abed." "Sixty to seventy percent of the people have left. The army has snipers targeting the bakeries. Food is very difficult to get. For gas and fuel, it's almost impossible."

The military shut down hospitals in Qusayr four months ago, Abu Abed said.

The militias are highly localized, and it isn't clear whether the situation is the same in restive parts of Syria on the Turkish, Jordanian and Iraqi borders.

"We just know what is happening there from what we see on TV," said Abu Mohamed, a supporter of the Free Syrian Army who lives on the outskirts of Qusayr and helps transport the wounded to Lebanon.

Movement is heavily restricted for supporters and members of the Free Syrian Army, who move within their neighborhoods to avoid Syrian army checkpoints. Anything or anyone smuggled in or out goes by a sort of relay system, moving from safe house to safe house.

"We have not seen our relatives in Qusayr, a few kilometers away, in eight months," Abu Mohamed said.

A pair of young men who were fleeing Qusayr for Lebanon confirmed that tanks had entered Baba Amr on Wednesday morning.

"The FSA is running out of bullets," said Ahmed, a rebel fighter who said he was shot in the hand in Baba Amr nearly a month ago. "There is no way to get weapons in."

Meanwhile, Avaaz, an organization that's been working with opposition forces to smuggle journalists into Syria, reported that a Spanish journalist had arrived in Lebanon after escaping Homs.

The organization said that Javier Espinosa, one of a handful of foreign journalists who'd been trapped in the Baba Amr district as the military shelled it, had crossed into Lebanon on Wednesday afternoon. He'd left Homs with another wounded journalist, Paul Conroy, and several opposition activists on Sunday, but had gotten separated from the group when it came under shelling from the military.

Avaaz said 13 opposition activists had been killed while trying to evacuate Espinosa, Conroy and two other wounded journalists, Edith Bouvier and William Daniels, from Baba Amr. Three died in the initial effort to flee, in which all four journalists took part. Seven were killed as they tried to return Bouvier and Daniels to the field hospital, Avaaz said. Three more were killed in the later shelling that separated Conroy and Espinosa.

The journalists were wounded a week ago when Syrian shells struck a house in Baba Amr that Avaaz had been using as a news media center. Bouvier, whose femur was shattered in the shelling, issued an Internet plea for evacuation, but the details of efforts to rescue them are unclear. Two journalists, including the American Marie Colvin, were killed in the attack.

A spokesman for the International Committee for the Red Cross in Damascus said last week that negotiations over evacuating the journalists had begun. But despite a brief cease-fire that allowed the evacuation of some wounded, the journalists remained in Baba Amr until the weekend.

(Enders is a McClatchy special correspondent.)


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