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.


Russia airstrikes target ISIS infrastructure facilities in Syria

Israeli fire wounds at least 10 Palestinians in West Bank

Erdogan faces tough talks in meeting with EU leaders

UAE holds election for advisory council

Sohaib El Oussani reveals backstage of Europe Orient Documentary Film in Asilah

Erdogan urges Putin to reconsider air campaign in Syria

Iran expels Bahrain envoy in apparent retaliation

First hajj stampede bodies arrive in Iran from Saudi Arabia

US urges Libya rivals to move forward with peace deal

Powers condemn targeting of Syrian opposition by Russia

Turkey accuses Russia of hitting Syria rebels to bolster Assad

Palestinians kill Israeli couple in West Bank shooting

Russia again strikes Assad regime's foes

Iran backs Russian military strategy in Syria

S&P: Gulf banks' net earnings set to slide

Russia confirms new air strikes on targets in Syria

12 killed in Ankara bus stop crash

Syrians, Afghans clash in German refugee centre

South Sudan's peace deal means little in Koch swamps

Trump: If I’m elected, Syrians go back home!

Iran says 464 dead in Saudi hajj stampede

Saudi, Iran agree to repatriate dead pilgrims

Abbas: Palestinians no longer feel bound by past agreements with Israel

Russia, US to hold ‘de-confliction’ talks on Syria

Three conditions as France voices concern over Russia involvement in Syria

Iraq Kurdish forces recapture land from ISIS jihadists

Tunisia buries Sousse gunman under strict security cordon

Iran diplomat missing after hajj stampede

Six days after hajj tragedy, Iran-Saudi tensions escalate

For first time in history, Palestinians to raise flag at UN

Finland freezes asylum decisions for Iraq, Somalia refugees

UK Labour Party ready to support Syria airstrikes, with conditions

Iran Foreign Minister under fire over ‘Obama handshake’

Parliamentary and religious support as Russia launches airstrikes in Syria

Assad regime strikes kill 27 civilians in central Syria

Iraq kidnappers free remaining 16 Turkish workers

Iran threatens 'fierce' reaction if Saudi Arabia does not repatriate hajj victims

Damascus confirms Assad request for military aid from Russia

Europe refugee crisis in focus at UN

France launches war crimes inquiry against Syria regime

Coalition seizes Iran boat with arms for Yemen rebels

Putin gets unanimous parliament support for Syria air strikes

Morocco government blocks opening of first Ikea

Israeli air raids hit Gaza in response to rocket fire

Saudi FM insists Assad must go or be ousted