Syrian President Bashar al-Assad attends a ceremony at the tomb of the unknown soldier in Damascus in this May 6, 2011 file photo. UPI/FILE/SANA | License Photo
DAMASCUS, Syria, Dec. 29 (UPI) -- The Syrian military, depleted by desertions and casualties, has mobilized reservists and arrested draft-dodgers in the wake of planned peace talks.
President Bashar al-Assad, whose country has seen a four-year civil war, an attempt by the Islamic State to overtake territory and occasional military strikes by Israel targeting Hezbollah militants, agreed to send representatives in January to peace talks proposed by Russia, the Syrian news agency SANA reported earlier this week. The tightening of military recruitment and conscription procedures could be seen as a sign Syria seeks to maximize gains prior to the talks.
It could also reinforce resentment in the Syrian population over the large number of battlefield casualties.
"These things have obviously angered core constituents, and they show just how desperate the regime is to come up with warm bodies to fill the ranks of the Syrian Arab Army," Andrew Tabler, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told the Washington Post.
An increase in the number of arrests for desertion, among the tens of thousands forced into military service, has been noted in Syria, and many deserters have fled the country or gone into hiding. The number of active Syrian soldiers has dropped by half since 2011, from about 325,000 to 150,000, due to desertions, combat casualties and defections to militant rebel groups; Fatalities due to combat reached 44,000, a report last month from the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War indicated.
The crisis in the Syrian military comes as the army accused Israel of bombing sites near Damascus Sunday. The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said an airport warehouse, believed to contain weapons, was targeted, but did not indicate if the alleged weapons were those of Hezbollah or the Syrian army.
Israel has launched attacks on Syria in the past, in each case aimed at weapons it says are being funneled to the militant group. Except to say if would not rely on "foreign reports," the Israeli military did not acknowledge the reports of the airstrikes.