Syria opposition says Assad deploying human shields for air strikes

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has moved military equipment and personnel to civilian areas and put prisoners in military sites as human shields against any Western air strikes, the opposition said on Sunday.

The Istanbul-based opposition coalition said rockets, Scud missiles and launchers as well as soldiers had been moved to locations including schools, university dormitories and government buildings inside cities.

"Reports from inside Syria confirm that Assad has (also)ordered detainees to be moved to military targets and to be used as human shields against possible Western air strikes," the opposition coalition said in a statement.

Reuters could not independently verify the reports, and attempts to reach Syrian officials for comment were unsuccessful.

Ex-soldiers told Reuters last week that military sites in Syria were being packed with soldiers who had been effectively imprisoned by their superiors over doubts about their loyalty, making them possible casualties in any U.S.-led air strikes.

Thousands of loyal security forces and militia, meanwhile, have moved into schools and residential buildings in Damascus, mixing with the civilian population in the hope of escaping a Western strike, residents say.

U.S. President Barack Obama said on Saturday he would seek congressional consent before taking action against Damascus for its apparent use of chemical weapons, a move likely to delay an attack for at least 10 days.

Critics say the delay is simply buying Assad more time.

The opposition coalition earlier called on the U.S. Congress to back a military intervention and said international inaction during the conflict, now in its third year, had emboldened Assad and allowed the violence to escalate.

(Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Jon Boyle)

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