The new from the besieged city of Haffa is grim - the stench of death is everywhere, but there's no way to know the number of casualties as fighting was still ongoing and bodies were apparently policed:
The UN Supervisory Mission in Syria said observers in the town reported finding it all but deserted with a strong stench of dead bodies and almost all government institutions gutted from the inside.The war appears heading into a new phase as France is contemplating providing communications equipment to the rebel forces. That's a significant step and shouldn't be discounted considering just how Assad's regime has fought the insurrection by limiting communications between opposition groups.
Sky's foreign affairs editor Tim Marshall, who is in Syria, said the observers had also found many cars burned, including police cars.
The observers were escorted into the town by government forces.
The news comes a day after Syrian authorities said the area had been "cleansed" of rebel fighters.
On Wednesday, rebels were said to have withdrawn from the besieged town and nearby villages that had been under intense regime shelling for eight days.
The UN statement said: "A strong stench of dead bodies was in the air and there appeared to be pockets in the town were fighting is still ongoing."
It added: "Most government institutions, including the post office, were set on fire from inside.
"Archives were burnt, stores were looted and set on fire, residential homes appeared rummaged and the doors were open."
It said the number of casualties was still unclear.
New communications equipment would allow the rebels greater coordination in defying the Assad regime, as well as getting their messages out to the rest of the world.
At the same time, Russia is sending a small contingent of combat troops to guard its port facilities in Tartus, Syria. That further complicates the diplomatic efforts and puts Russian troops on the ground in Syria at a time when the West is looking to find ways to oust Assad. US officials also clarified that the Russians were sending replacement parts for Russian-made helicopters, not sending new helicopters, though the outcome is still that Assad can use those helicopters and the replacement parts as part of his ongoing war against the rebel forces.
Having the Russian troops on the ground reduces the chances of an operation to oust Assad and greatly increases the risks for any kind of military operation. It's the most concrete example to date of Russian support for Assad, despite countless examples of crimes against humanity and war crimes. Those crimes include using sexual assaults and rape to further the regime's goals.
The EU has banned luxury goods from being shipped to Syria, but it will be some time before the effects of that ban take its toll on the regime.
The conflict in Syria has repercussions for Israel as well. There, the concern is what happens to Syria's WMD program, particularly chemical weapons that the Syrians are known to possess.
srael’s concern focuses on two stark possibilities.Those concerns were amplified following reports that a Syrian military base was overrun by rebel forces. Israeli officials also believe that Hizbullah may be trying to get their advanced weapons out of Syria and into Lebanon before everything completely goes crazy in Syria.
The first is that the weapons will fall into rogue hands – either al-Qaida or Hezbollah, which is believed to already be working to move some of the advanced military systems it has been storing in Syria to Lebanon out of fear that they will be captured by rebel forces. The takeover earlier this week of an air defense base in Syria by rebels underscores that fear.
The second option – considered more unlikely – is that Assad will use the weapons against Israel if he starts to think that his end is near. This way, he will try to divert attention away from the massacres his military forces have been perpetrating throughout Syria and instead have his people rally behind him in a war against Israel.
Syria’s chemical weapons program began in the mid 1970s. According to Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yehoshua Saguy, who served as head of Military Intelligence from 1979 to 1983, Egypt assisted the Syrians in starting the program.
“It was after the Yom Kippur War which they ultimately lost, and there were rumors about Israel’s purported nuclear capability,” Saguy recalled this week. “It was a totalitarian regime so they just diverted funds, purchased some basic capabilities from Egypt and later, with the help of experts from the former Soviet Union, began to build their own independent infrastructure.”
It took only a few years for the program to take off, and in 1982 the world witnessed what a dictator with chemical weapons was capable of doing. Hafez Assad ordered his military to quell Muslim Brotherhood protests in Hama. In addition to heavy shelling, the forces also used poisonous gas to kill the protesters.