First Published: 2012-07-16

 

Unprecedented street battles sweep Syrian capital

 

Syria's army blasts rebel strongholds in Damascus with mortars, sparking ‘most intense’ fighting in the capital since the revolt erupted

 

Middle East Online

Decisive battles

DAMASCUS - Syria's army blasted rebel strongholds in Damascus with mortars Sunday, sparking the "most intense" fighting in the capital since the revolt erupted 16 months ago, a monitoring group said.

The army's offensive, aimed at driving rebels of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) out of Damascus, was launched soon after the foreign ministry held a press conference to deny its troops had carried out a massacre in Treimsa village.

"The regular army fired mortar rounds into several suburbs" where FSA rebels are entrenched, said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The fighting was heaviest in the Tadamon, Kfar Sousa, Nahr Aisha and Sidi Qadad neighbourhoods, he said. Six civilians were reported killed in the city.

"(It has) never been this intense," Abdel Rahman said.

"The security forces are attempting to take control of these neighbourhoods but so far they have not succeeded," he added.

The Local Coordination Committees, which organise anti-regime protests in Syria, said plumes of black smoke were billowing out of Tadamon late Sunday and that loud explosions had been heard in Nahr Aisha.

The Britain-based Observatory said violence across Syria on Sunday had killed 105 people -- 48 civilians, 16 rebels and 41 soldiers.

The main opposition coalition, the Syrian National Council (SNC), hailed the insurgents fighting army troops in the capital, accusing the regime of having transformed rebel neighbourhoods into "a battlefield."

"The revolution is spreading and has tightened the noose around the regime in zones where it thought it was beyond the anger of the people," SNC spokesman Georges Sabra said in a speech shown on Arab satellite networks.

"We place on the Arab League and the international community the responsibility for any disastrous result from what is going on in Homs and Damascus," he added.

Rights activists say more than 150 people were massacred by Syrian troops backed by pro-regime shabiha militiamen on Thursday in the central village of Treimsa.

If the number is confirmed, this would be one of the bloodiest episodes of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, which rights activists say has cost more than 17,000 lives since March 2011.

But foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi vehemently denied both the allegations of a massacre and the number of people reportedly killed.

"What happened was not a massacre ... It was a clash between regular forces and armed groups who do not believe in a peaceful solution," Makdissi told reporters in Damascus.

Makdissi also denied activists' allegations that helicopters and heavy weapons had been used in the assault on Treimsa.

"This is absolutely not true. Only troop carriers and light weapons were used, the most powerful of weapons being RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades)," he said.

Makdissi said "only five buildings, where there were very sophisticated weapons, were targeted".

And dismissing allegations of more than 150 killed, he said that "37 armed men were killed and two civilians only", citing an unidentified source who claimed to have buried them.

The UN Supervision Mission in Syria said a team of "specialised civilian and military experts" had visited Treimsa on Sunday to continue their investigation into the reports of the mass killing.

"The integrated patrol ... observed over 50 houses that were burned and/or destroyed. Pools of blood and brain matter were observed in a number of homes," UNSMIS spokeswoman Sausan Ghosheh said in a statement.

"On the basis of some of the destruction observed in the town and the witness accounts, the attack appears targeted at army defectors and activists," she added.

"The number of casualties is still unclear."

The Treimsa incident has galvanised international diplomatic efforts over the crisis.

On Monday, UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon are headed respectively for Russia and China to press the two UN Security Council members to back tougher action against Assad's regime.

The visits by Annan and Ban come at a crucial new stage in the conflict.

The Security Council has until Friday to renew the UN mission in Syria but is divided over Western calls to add sanctions.

"So divided that maybe Annan and Ban now have the most influence over Russia and China to get anything done," said one senior UN council diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A draft statement which said the Syria government was in "violation" of its international commitments was circulated among the 15 Council nations on Friday, diplomats said.

Russia's envoys said they could not agree. Russia has led the resistance and Annan was to meet President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during two days of talks in Moscow, said his spokesman Ahmad Fawzi.

China has supported Russia's position and Ban heads for Beijing on Monday, officially for a China-Africa summit.

But Syria will top his agenda when he meets President Hu Jintao and other senior leaders, said a UN official.

 

Gaza civilian toll spiralling to above 800

Hezbollah chief speaks out on Gaza

Sadly no survivors on Air Algerie flight crash

Two rival Islamic states in Syria power struggle

Ordeal of ‘apostasy’ woman ends with departure from Sudan

Crete protest against Syria chemicals destruction in Mediterranean

74 killed in IS assault on Syria regime territory

Iran confirms arrest of Washington Post correspondent

Somali 'Shebab commanders' killed in AU offensive

Paris: survivors of Air Algerie jet crash 'unlikely'

Jordan shots down drone near Syria border

UN urges Europe to tackle Mediterranean migrant crisis

From Israel with ‘virus’: Death threat letter reaches Palestinian mission in France

Another bloody day as Israel targets civilians in UN-run school

‘Islamic State’ launches multiple attacks on Syria army

Attack on Egypt army post bears fingerprints of foreign intelligence

Harassment of Christians escalates in Islamist-run Sudan

Air Algerie plane goes missing over Mali

Algeria plane with many French nationals on board vanishes over Mali

Iraqi protesters denounce treatment of minority Christians

Iraq elects Kurdish politician as federal president

Russia begins supplying military equipment to Iraq

Air Algerie plane contact lost over west Africa

South Sudan warring sides to resume peace talks

Baghdad closer to breaking political limbo

Spectacular attack on Iraq prisoner convoy

Gaza death toll passes 700 mark

Mladenov pleads for UN help to end IS 'atrocities' in Iraq

Hamas hails suspension of Israel flights as 'great victory'

Lebanon army records first case of desertion to join Syria Nusra Front

Iraq gunmen kill female former candidate for parliament

Kerry cites ‘some steps forward’ in Gaza truce efforts

Turkey hunts for nine intelligence officers in wire-tapping probe

Suspension of hostilities in Gaza to allow medical assistance

Assassination of famed Somali musician and lawmaker

Sisi defends Egypt in trying to broker Gaza truce

Syria welcomes nomination of Staffan de Mistura as new UN envoy

Iraq lawmakers stall presidential election as violence yields grim crop of bodies

Yemen president calls for unity

Etihad helps Jet Airways return to profit

Is Tunisia returning to old regime censorship?

Qatar emir in unannounced visit to Saudi

HRW: Iraq air strikes wreaking awful toll on civilians

Kuwait revokes pro-opposition TV, newspaper licences

Twin suicide bombing shakes Libya's Benghazi