Syrian Opposition Poised to Launch New Attacks Against Assad Regime

Fed up with Assad's lethal tactics and flush with new weapons, Syrian rebels launch new military assault.

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In this image made from amateur video released by the Shaam News Network purports to show black smoke rising from buildings in Homs, Syria.

Syrian opposition forces new cease fire-ending offensive will last at least several weeks, the latest sign the U.N.-brokered plan is dead, a rebel source says.

In battles over the weekend, rebel militants allegedly killed around 80 Syrian soldiers weekend. The opposition forces opted to launch the series of attacks because President Bashir al-Assad has for weeks ignored a U.N. cease fire mandate, they claim.

"Over the next weeks, it's only going to get bloodier," says the opposition source.

The U.N. cease fire plan was negotiated by Kofi Annan, a former U.N. secretary general, and was set to go into effect early last month. But, opposition officials and U.N. monitors say, Assad and his military loyalists never stuck by its parameters.

In recent days, images of mass executions of citizens, including children, emboldened Free Syrian Army leaders to opt for a new offensive against Assad's forces, the source says.

[Gallery: Fighting in Syria Continues.]

"The FSA's decision is another firm declaration that the Annan plan has failed," the opposition source says. "It will mean [all sides] will have to say, 'Now what?'"

It remains difficult to assess just how capable the FSA and other rebel groups have become after months of fighting. Sources say regional powers like Saudi Arabia have quietly upgraded some rebel armaments, and the United States has provided communications equipment.

The opposition source says FSA leaders have improved their efforts to coordinate operations with other rebel groups, indicating a more capable opposition force. On the other hand, one report from Damascus last week described rebel forces turning a commercial fuel tanker truck into a makeshift flamethrower, indicating a still ragtag militia that is so poorly armed it must improvise in ways that could endanger its own fighters.

U.S., Western and regional officials remain reluctant to directly get involved in the civil strife. The Obama administration is reluctant to intervene militarily, worried such a move would make more bloody a conflict that already has been raging for nearly 15 months and killed more than 9,000 people.

Experts say U.S. officials likely will now lean hard on Russian President Vladimir Putin, who holds considerable sway over Assad. Russia has a decades-old relationship with the Middle Eastern nation, pouring in economic aid and arming the regime with high-tech weapons.

Humanitarian groups on Monday called for the Obama administration to step up moves aimed at convincing Moscow to cease its support for Assad.

"The failure of diplomacy to achieve meaningful results should prompt the Obama administration to take actions to leverage greater pressure on Russia and any other country fueling widespread human rights violations in Syria," Human Rights First said in a statement. "For one, the U.S. government should show it won't stand for Russia's enabling by terminating business contracts with Russian entities found to be arming the Assad regime."

John T. Bennett covers national security and foreign policy for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact him at jbennett@usnews.com or follow him on Twitter.

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