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.

 

41 killed in Istanbul airport bomb, gun attacks

Democratic hopes fade away in Egypt

US-backed Syria rebels advance on key IS link to Iraq

Ban to Israeli PM: Gaza blockade ‘collective punishment’

Egypt becoming departure country for migrants to Europe

Egypt president urges religious reforms to counter extremists

First aid convoy since 2012 enters two besieged Syria towns

Race to succeed Cameron begins after stunning Brexit vote

Yemen peace talks to take two-week break

Iraq secures $2.7 billion US military loan

ISIS pushes back Syria rebel offensive on Iraq route

Israel cabinet approves Turkey reconciliation deal

Turkey airport attack slams limping tourism industry

Putin lifts Turkey travel restrictions, orders trade 'normalised'

Fears for stranded Syrian refugees as Jordan blocks access

Bahrain activist back in jail despite worsening health

Witnesses recount Istanbul attack

Car bomb kills 10 in Kurdish-held Syria town

Alstom-led consortium awarded $2.88 billion Dubai metro extension

Israel revokes controversial 'Hannibal Directive'

Detained Bahraini activist hospitalised

UN chief urges Netanyahu to make tough choices

Saudi Aramco, SABIC in joint petrochemicals study

Yemen clashes, air strikes kill 37 civilians

Egypt's anti-graft tsar becomes public enemy number one

Iraqis shun return to 'cursed' Fallujah

Lebanese army raids refugee camps after bombings

Ankara goes back on compensation offer for downed Russia jet

Iraq court deals blow to PM's cabinet reform efforts

UAE jails Emirati woman for spying for Hezbollah

Eight hurt in Turkey car bombing blamed on PKK

Iran hopes Saudi embassy attack trial will restore confidence

France charges Assad's uncle with graft

EgyptAir black box flight recorder 'repaired'

11 Kurdish rebels, 3 Revolutionary Guards killed in Iran

Egypt deports British-Lebanese TV show host

Turkey seeks to restore broken ties with Russia

Deadly bombings target Yemen troops in ex-Qaeda bastion

NGOs press EU leaders on Africa migrant plan

Jordanian intelligence officials sold weapons for Syria rebels on black market

On British-Irish border, Brexit breeds worries for future

New lawyers of Gaddafi son urge ICC to drop case

Bahrain jails 5 people on charges linked to ‘terrorism’

Erdogan apologises to Putin over downing of Russia jet

Clashes continue at Al-Aqsa compound