Assad's tanks withdraw from opposition-held town

Syrian government tanks and armoured vehicles have pulled back from an embattled mountain town near Damascus, witnesses said, as a month-long Arab League fact-finding mission expired.

The withdrawal from Zabadani left the town under the control of the opposition, activists said. It had witnessed heavy exchanges of fire between army troops and anti-government military defectors over the past six days.

The 10-month uprising against the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, has become increasingly militarised and chaotic as frustrated regime opponents and army defectors arm themselves and fight against government forces.

According to a protocol signed by the Syrian government, an Arab League observer mission ended yesterday, but can be renewed for another month. The mission has been mired in controversy, with the opposition claiming it served as a cover for the regime to continue its brutal crackdown.

The League will discuss on Sunday whether or not to extend the mission.