AMMAN - Syrian opposition activists said government forces
killed at least 26 people, half of them children, in a bombardment of rebel-held
areas on the outskirts of Damascus on Sunday.
The air, rocket and
artillery campaign is the heaviest since rebels overran a helicopter base and
missile base near Damascus two months ago and encroached on the main
international airport, inching steadily closer to the capital, the sources
Video footage showed women weeping over the dismembered bodies of
children strewn across a field in Eastern Ghouta, near an air defense base on
the edge of the town of Muleiha, 5 km (3 miles) east of Damascus.
is the last major fortification in the area east of Damascus not yet to have
fallen to the rebels. President Bashar Assad's core troops and security
personnel, mostly belonging to his minority Alawite sect, are entrenched in the
"God is greater than you, Bashar," one of the activists is shown
saying as a youth carries the torso of a child.
The footage was taken by
activists and could not be independently verified.
al-Shami, speaking by phone from Damascus, said residential areas around Muleiha
and in the working-class suburbs of Hazzeh, Kfar Batna and Douma were being
"The regime has gone mad with bombardment today. Footage
that has been coming in is heartbreaking. Among the dead is a mother, Heba
al-Lahham, and her three children, who were playing in a field in Hazzeh," she
Syrian army base under attack
A report by the opposition Damascus Media Centre
said rebels had been attacking the Muleiha base with rocket-propelled grenades
and mortars for five days, and the army had fired over 600 rockets on the town
"The base has a large numbers of tanks and armor and
stockpiles of ammunition. There is information that the Free Syrian Army has
destroyed five tanks and one armored vehicle," the report said.
of the group said Assad's forces were bombarding civilian areas to try to weaken
support for the rebels.
"This is the last base standing in the east
between the rebels and Damascus. It is a huge compound and the regime is
bombarding heavily to keep the rebels from mounting a concerted offensive to
take it over," he said.
A commander in Liwa al-Islam, one of several
rebel brigades fighting in the area, said the compound was well
"Our objective is to take it, but it will not be immediate," he
The rebel accounts could not be independently confirmed and there
were no state media reports of the fighting on Sunday.
have been relying on air power and artillery and rockets stationed on Qasioun
Mountain in Damascus and nearby bases to keep in check rebels who have taken
over a series of Sunni Muslim suburbs ringing the city.
Rebels have been
building up supply lines in Eastern Ghouta for months.
fighters lack the numbers and heavy weapons to storm Damascus, where mostly
70,000 Alawite troops are estimated to be based.
"Even if Muleiha falls,
the rebels will think twice before advancing on central areas in Damascus," said
an opposition campaigner in Damascus, after spending several days with the
fighters in Eastern Ghouta.
"They have seen how Assad responded before,
by destroying whole neighbourhoods with artillery."