BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad issued a decree announcing a general amnesty for military deserters who violated the country's compulsory military conscription law, state television said on Saturday.

The decree, which was announced on state television, said the law that would lift legal penalties against thousands of army deserters, applied to those outside and inside Syria.

The Syrian army, one of the region's largest, has been overstretched by a four-year long insurgency where it is battling on several major fronts Islamist rebels and ultra-hardline jihadist militants who have seized large swathes of territory. Many young men have fled the country or find ways to avoid conscription.

(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Toby Chopra)