BEIRUT — Fighting has ceased in a Syrian mountain resort near the capital that had fallen under the control of the opposition, after government troops pulled back tanks and armored vehicles, activists and eyewitnesses said.
The besieged town of Zabadani has witnessed heavy exchanges of fire between army troops and anti-government military defectors over the past six days.
Activist Fares Mohammad said Syrian forces that had been besieging Zabadani withdrew Wednesday night to two military barracks some miles (kilometers) outside.
“There is a cautious calm, but fear of another major assault being prepared against Zabadani,” he told The Associated Press by telephone from the resort town, located in mountains alongside the Lebanese border 17 miles (27 kilometers) west of Damascus.
The Syrian opposition has on several occasions in the past gained control of a town or city, but ultimately the military retook them. It is unusual however for the army to take so long to recapture a town so close to the capital.
Mohammed said the siege had eased, although heating oil has not been allowed into the town, where it snowed earlier this week. Military checkpoints surrounding the Zabadani were still in place, he said, while about 100 armed defectors were “protecting” it.
Residents said that government mortars had shelled the town on Wednesday, but that too had stopped.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the pullout from Zabadani, saying only two armored personnel carriers were left behind at one of the checkpoints near the town.
The pullback from Zabadani comes as a month-long Arab League observer mission to Syria officially ends, with Arab foreign ministers expected to review the monitors’ report at the League’s headquarters in Cairo over the weekend to decide on their next steps.
According to the protocol signed by the Syrian government, the mission ends Thursday but can be renewed for another month.
But the mission is mired in controversy, with the opposition claiming it served as a cover for the regime to continue its brutal crackdown on the 10-month uprising against President Bashar Assad.
Qatar’s leader proposed this week sending Arab troops into the country to stop mounting deaths, but Syria said it “absolutely rejects” such plans.
There was no comment from Syrian officials about the fighting in Zabadani.