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Assad grants amnesty for draft dodgers, defectors: Syrian state media

State media has said that defectors must hand themselves in within two months, and draft dodgers within one month
Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has been fighting an uprising against his rule since 2011 (AFP)

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad granted an amnesty on Saturday for people in war-torn Syria who have dodged service or defected from the army, state news agency SANA reported. 

According to SANA, Assad issued a decree "which grants a general amnesty to those who defected and are still in or have fled Syria". 

The special decree is the second amnesty in just over a year. It stipulates that defectors who fled the country have two months to hand themselves in, while those still inside Syria have one month. There were no details given for draft dodgers.

The amnesty wipes away "the entire punishment for those who fled inside Syria, as explained in article 100 of the military penal code," and "those who have fled the country [crossed the borders], as explained in article 101". 

The Assad government has previously had little tolerance for deserters, with widespread reports emerging earlier in the war of mass executions for any soldiers caught trying to flee.  

The articles, however, do not, refer to army members who joined the ranks of "the enemy," or who used their weapons against orders, in a reference to the opposition which initially gardened many supporters from within the armed forces. 

A military source told AFP that 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's four-year civil war has stretched the government's dwindling army, which is battling rebel forces and groups like Islamic State.

In early July, Damascus launched a mass public campaign to encourage citizens to enlist in the army.

More than 80,000 soldiers and pro-government militiamen have been killed since the beginning of Syria's conflict in March 2011, making up more than a third of the war's total toll of 230,000, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. 

At least 70,000 men have also dodged military service throughout the country, the Britain-based group said.

The deaths, defections, and difficulties in enlisting new recruits have more than halved the army's size since 2011, experts have said. 

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