Syrian capital sees heaviest fighting of uprising

Clashes appear to be an attempt by rebels to show they still pose a serious challenge; RPG fired at Syrian army general.

March 19, 2012 16:45
2 minute read.
Syrian TV shows site of bombing [file]

Syria bombed out car 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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AMMAN - Rebels fought government forces in Damascus on Monday, in the most violent gun battles the Syrian capital has seen since the start of the year-long revolt against President Bashar Assad, opposition activists said.

The clashes near the center of Assad's power base appeared to be an attempt by rebels, who have been forced out of Homs and Idlib and came under attack in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor on Monday, to show they still pose a serious challenge.

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Fighting erupted after midnight in the upmarket al-Mezze district when up to six rebels fired a rocket propelled grenade at the house of an army general, said Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).

Quoting local residents, he said the gunmen then took refuge in a building where they battled soldiers, gunfire echoing throughout the neighborhood. Official Syrian news agency Sana said three rebels and one member of the security forces died.

The armed confrontation came just two days after a double car bombing killed at least 27 people in the heart of the city, in a sign that the capital might be slowly sinking into mayhem.

"These clashes were the most violent and the closest to the security force headquarters in Damascus since the outbreak of the Syrian revolution," said SOHR's Rami Abdulrahman.

Video footage showed the top two floors of an unidentified apartment bloc scorched by fire, its walls and stairway pitted with bullet holes and shrapnel.

Reports from Syria cannot be independently verified because the authorities have barred access to rights groups and journalists.

The latest violence coincided with the arrival in Damascus of a team of five experts, sent by the UN-Arab League envoy for Syria, Kofi Annan, to discuss proposals to deploy international monitors in Syria.

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A separate team of experts from the United Nations and the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, led by the Syrian government, also started a mission to assess humanitarian needs, a source close to the mission said on Monday.

The group is due to visit areas hit by the uprising including the central city of Homs, scene of a month-long siege and military bombardment in February, and Deraa, where the revolt against Assad erupted a year ago.

The United Nations says more than 8,000 people have been killed and some 230,000 forced to flee their homes, including at least 30,000 who have escaped abroad. The government says about 2,000 members of the security forces have been killed.

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