Syrian army forms volunteer corps to fight militants

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syria’s army said on Tuesday it had formed a new corps of volunteers to fight alongside its soldiers and allies against opponents of President Bashar al-Assad.

It plans to recruit from across the country, but it was not immediately clear how many people would be involved.

“In response to the rapid development of events, to support the successes of armed forces and to meet people’s wishes to put an end to terrorist acts in the Syrian Arab Republic, the general command of the armed forces announces the formation of a Fifth Attack Troop Corps of volunteers,” an army statement said.

Syria already conscripts its men at age 18 into the army. Before the war, service would last for two years but now many conscripts say they have served for several years, with no sign of being discharged.

Military experts think the Syrian army numbered around 300,000 personnel pre-war, but its current size after almost six years of conflict is not known.

Young men are known to desert the army, or leave the country or pay bribes to avoid being drafted.

Syria’s forces are bolstered by Iran-backed militias and fighters from Lebanon’s Shiite Muslim Hezbollah group, as well as Russian air power.

They are fighting against anti-Assad rebels and jihadist Islamic State militants.

The statement said those eligible to volunteer must be over 18 and not already eligible for military service or deserters.

Those willing to join could sign up at recruitment centers around the country.

Reporting by Lisa Barrington Editing by Jeremy Gaunt