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Syrian army appeals for volunteers for new anti-terrorism force


Syrian president Bashar Assad, centre right, meets a Russian delegation in Damascus (SANA/AP)

Syrian president Bashar Assad, centre right, meets a Russian delegation in Damascus (SANA/AP)

Syrian president Bashar Assad, centre right, meets a Russian delegation in Damascus (SANA/AP)

Syria's military has announced it is forming a new anti-terrorism commando force, calling for volunteers interested in "achieving the final victory against terrorism".

The announcement, which named the new anti-terrorism unit the Fifth Corps, did not specify where the force would be deployed.

After nearly six years of combat, the Syrian conscription-based armed forces have become overstretched and have increasingly relied on regional allies to boost its numbers and capabilities.

Iran, Iraq and Lebanon's Hezbollah group have sent hundreds of fighters who have fought alongside government troops, sometimes leading combat units, in decisive battles against armed opposition groups and extremist militants.

The move comes a year after Syrian armed forces announced the formation of the Fourth Corps, also an anti-terrorism force, soon after Russia began its military operations alongside the Syrian government.

Moscow's military backing of the Syrian government, with intensive aerial bombings and long-range missiles fired from the Mediterranean, has dramatically turned the fortunes of the Syrian government - emboldening ground advances on multiple fronts, including in the besieged rebel-held parts of Aleppo city.

The Syrian army declaration read on state TV came as the pace of government warnings to residents of eastern Aleppo increased.

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State TV on Tuesday aired announcements urging armed opposition groups to allow civilians to exit the besieged enclave through government-designated corridors.

Another warning urged residents to co-operate with government forces. A third called on residents to avoid going out in the streets except in "dire need" and to stay clear of areas where armed groups operate.

The media campaign comes after a week of an intensified aerial bombing of the rebel-held enclave left at least 140 civilians dead, including 18 children, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The government aerial campaign began as Russia announced an offensive against militants in the armed groups' stronghold in Idlib province and the central province of Homs.

The bombing campaign, which has put most of eastern Aleppo's health facilities out of service, sparked widespread international criticism.

At the UN on Monday, the organisation's chief humanitarian officer condemned Bashar Assad's government for "bombing its own people".

On Sunday, the Syrian government dismissed a UN peace proposal to establish limited autonomy in rebel-held eastern Aleppo.

The offensive was accompanied by pro-government troops pushing their way into neighbourhoods on the edges of eastern Aleppo.

Fighting on the southern edge, in the Sheik Saeed neighbourhood, intensified on Tuesday. A major rebel group, Ahrar al-Sham, said one of its leading commanders was killed as they repelled advances by government troops.

On Tuesday, Assad received a Russian delegation in Damascus, headed by the Russian deputy prime minister, in a show of close ties between the two governments in the face of international criticism.


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