Regime claws back districts of Damascus


THE STREETS of Syria’s capital echoed to the sounds of outgoing mortar rounds yesterday, shattering the weekly day of rest and the calm of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. Clashes were concentrated in the Tadamon district to the southeast and lower Kafr Soussa to the southwest.

In the northern city of Aleppo, the country’s commercial capital, fighting was concentrated on the Salaheddine district, seen as a gateway for the Syrian army.

Rebels claimed to have captured a police station after days of clashes. Rebel commander Abu Zaher said fighters had taken several police officers prisoner and seized weapons and ammunition.

Other rebels said an estimated 20 civilians had been killed in fighting elsewhere. They say 50 of their fighters have been killed there in the last several days.

In Damascus, Syrian troops entered Tadamon with dozens of tanks and armoured vehicles in a push to win back the last rebel stronghold there, a witness and activists said.

Activists said most of the district was under the control of government forces by early yesterday evening. The army had been trying to enter the area for more than a week but was pushed back by fierce resistance from the rebels.

An activist said the troops had executed several people after entering the district. The account could not be confirmed. “Thousands of soldiers have entered the neighbourhood, they are conducting house-to-house raids,” a resident, who did not want to be identified for security reasons, said by telephone.

Residents of the Palestinian area of the city’s Yarmouk district remained shocked and angry about two mortars that exploded on Ja’ouneh Street, killing 20, on Thursday evening.

Jamil, who lives in the area, told The Irish Times that people who rushed to help the wounded after the first shell hit were struck by the second. He said the shells fell near a UN-run school currently housing 350 Syrians fleeing violence in neighbouring areas, including Tadamon. Youngsters, who blamed the army for the strike, demonstrated in the streets but the Yarmouk local council accused the rebels of firing the mortars.

Chris Gunness, spokesman for UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees, said although “intensive armed engagements” had taken place around the neighbourhood, “there is no indication that Palestine refugees, homes or properties are being targeted”.

State news agency Sana blamed the mortar incident on rebel fighters who, it said, had been driven from the area by the army. There is, however, speculation that the rounds had misfired during fighting between rebels and troops in nearby Tadamon.

According to informants in Saida Zeinab, troops have flushed rebels out of the quarter, the site of the tomb of the granddaughter of the prophet Muhammad where large numbers of Iraqi and Iranian Shias live.

Jdeidet Artouz, the village southwest of Damascus where more than 50 rebels were slain and at least 100 detained in an army operation on Wednesday, was calm as grieving families observed the third formal day of mourning.

A foreign analyst said the army’s campaign to drive insurgents from Damascus, its suburbs and surrounding towns and villages was succeeding.

“Most of the rebels involved are local boys without training and effective weapons, unlike the hundreds of hardened fighters experienced in urban warfare from Libya, Yemen, and Chechnya involved in the battle for Aleppo . . . The aim of the rebels and their Saudi and Qatari backers is to wear down the army until it can no longer protect the regime.”

About 1,000 Syrians have fled to Turkey in the past 24 hours to escape intensifying violence, a Turkish official said yesterday. The latest group brought the number of Syrian refugees in Turkey to 45,500. – (Additional reporting Reuters)