Syrian insurgents who have claimed control of a mountain border town have added to the pressure on the Assad regime, saying it is to become a hub of armed resistance.
After five days of intensive battles, dozens of government tanks, along with armoured vehicles and infantry pulled back from the town of Zabadani following what was said to be a ceasefire agreement with opposition militias.
But the insurgents heralded the move as an unprecedented victory, claiming Zabadani to be the 'first free town in Syria' and a haven in which to build and strengthen their troops, as Benghazi became in the Libyan uprising.
"A lot of soldiers have refused to obey orders, and tried to escape," said a resident, who gave his name as Zean al-Zabadani. "Many of them have been killed. We are going now release the soldiers from Bashar al Assad's prison grip and help them to escape.
"But this is a tenuous safety. We are frightened that they will bomb us from the air, or try again to retake the town. We need international help to make this a real safe zone".
Although the town is small and may yet come under renewed attack, its residents' claims follow discussions by Syria's neighbours of the creation of a "buffer zone" for the provision of aid, possibly supervised by outside military.
Leaks said it would recommend the mission being extended, saying that while it had not stopped the violence, it had not made it worse.
League officials said the monitors would remain in Syria in the meantime.
Zabadani, close to the border with Lebanon, was among the towns visited by the monitors, who found its streets already taken over by opposition protesters. After the ceasefire was announced, video footage showed masked gunmen sitting on the bonnets of cars and leaning out of the windows of slowly moving vehicles, toting kalashnikov and rocket propelled grenades in a victory parade.
"The city is effectively under the control of the Free Syrian Army," said Mohammed al Dais, from the Syrian Revolution General Commission. "They will use this time to create a safe space for Assad army soldiers to defect to. They need to create a stable, safe place where they can gather".
Mr Dais said the regime acted out of concern for what might be said at the Arab League meeting if an attack went ahead.
"They have withdrawn from that area to release some pressure, and as a show of will to the international community."