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Syrian president announces army deserter amnesty

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image copyrightReuters
image captionThe amnesty does not extend to rebel fighters

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has called an amnesty for those who have avoided military service or deserted the army, the country's state agency reports.

The decree applies to those who have fled the war-torn country and those still living there, Sana reported.

It does not include people who joined rebels in the civil war.

At least 70,000 men have avoided military service, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

More than 80,000 soldiers and pro-government militiamen have been killed since the start of the conflict in March 2011.

The Syrian army which is fighting rebels and jihadist groups, began a recruitment drive at the start of July to try to tackle its personnel shortage.

It has suffered setbacks in recent months in the north-western province of Idlib and the ancient city of Palmyra, which was taken over by Islamic State militants.

Deserters must turn themselves in within two months to be covered by the amnesty announced on Saturday.

A military source told AFP the decree "only includes those who defected and who did not participate in military activities after their defection or stain their hands with blood".

Syria has a conscript army with 18 months compulsory service. Deserters normally face imprisonment.

President Assad has issued similar amnesties for criminals in the past, but excluded the thousands of political prisoners.

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