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Strained army falls back on reserves as many flee

Syria is calling up former soldiers from the reserves to active army service in growing numbers, a sign of the strain of efforts to crush the 17-month-old revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.

world Updated: Sep 05, 2012 01:12 IST

Syria is calling up former soldiers from the reserves to active army service in growing numbers, a sign of the strain of efforts to crush the 17-month-old revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.

Several fleeing reservists and a serving army officer told Reuters that thousands of men had been called up in the past two months to bolster the 300,000 strong army, and many of them are failing to report for duty.

"We have two choices: Stay and kill fellow Syrians, or desert, and be on the run from military courts," said a legal assistant summoned for duty in Damascus.

One army officer contacted in Homs said he believed that only half of those called up in recent months had reported for duty, although it was not possible to verify that figure or ascertain whether other units had experienced similar levels of reservists failing to report.

The officer said many units had suffered heavy losses battling rebels.

"There is a shortage of men. A lot of fighters have been killed, and we have desertions," he said by telephone, sighing.

Most Syrian men are required to serve in the army for two years when they turn 18 or after finishing university. After a man has served, he remains in the reserves and can be called up for active duty.

Syria's conflict has killed more than 20,000 people. Fleeing reservists said that whatever their political stance, they did not want to be part of the country's civil war.

The fighting has intensified in the past two months, with rebels launching advances in the capital Damascus.