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.

 

Trump accuses Assad of committing 'horrible' crimes

Tunisia parliament passes bill to 'end all violence' against women

Egypt creates 'national council' to fight 'terror'

Battle on Lebanon-Syria border proves difficult for Hezbollah fighters

Climate change will make wildfires more common

Iran 'successfully' tests satellite launch rocket

Israeli forces attack Palestinians returning to sensitive holy site

Turkish PM tells German execs they are not part of ‘tension’

UAE agent Dahlan attends Hamas-led parliament

Ceasefire deal reached on Syria-Lebanon border

Al-Jazeera rejects Netanyahu's accusations of 'incitement'

A hunt for the missing in the ruins of Mosul

Rights group says Iraqi unit executed Mosul prisoners

Etihad posts $1.87 bn loss in 2016

France to conduct asylum seeker checks in Libya

Palestinians to return to Jerusalem holy site

Subdued atmosphere in Jerusalem's Old City

Britain lifts Tunisia travel warning

Police in Cairo kill 4 suspected in mid-July attack

Bahrain charges 60 in mass trial

Erdogan says Israeli removal of holy site metal detectors not enough

Tripoli asks Italy to send ships in fight against traffickers

Egyptian state seizes land from ‘squatters’

Jerusalem standoff continues over 'advanced' cameras

UN says majority of Yemen children in need of immediate aid

Syrian civilians turn to smugglers to flee Raqa fighting

Clashes erupt in Eastern Ghouta despite Syria truce deal

Isolated Qatar criticises new Saudi bloc blacklist

Top EU court keeps Hamas on terror list

Iran’s deputy FM: US sanctions vote 'hostile'

Two Moroccan UN peacekeepers killed in C. Africa attack

Rival Libyan leaders agree to ceasefire, elections

Palestinians demand removal of Jerusalem 'security' measures

Key challenges in Libya's chaos

Where Afghanistan is heading and what it means for the Arab Gulf

Saudi raises $4.53 bln in oversubscribed bond issue

Jordanian mourners chant 'death to Israel'

14 Saudis face ‘imminent’ unfair execution says Amnesty

Rival Libyan leaders hold talks in France

Amnesty International urges EU to 'reset' Turkey relations

Erdogan urges Muslims to ‘protect’ Jerusalem

US sanctions protecting Iranian tech sector

Air strike kills civilians in Syria despite truce

278 Europe-bound migrants rescued off Libya

Beirut, the upcoming start-up hub in MENA region