Syria: Death toll hits new high as Assad bids to regain control
SYRIAN troops and tanks yesterday drove rebels from a Damascus neighbourhood where some of the heaviest of this week’s fighting in the capital had left cars gutted and bodies in the streets.
More than 300 people were killed in Syria on Thursday alone – the most casaulties in a single day of the 16-month uprising – activists claimed.
Meanwhile, a fourth member of president Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle, national security chief Hisham Ikhtiyar, died of wounds he sustained in a bomb blast on Wednesday, the government confirmed. The bomb targeted a high-level security meeting in Damascus.
The bombing dealt a heavy blow to Mr Assad, killing his defence minister and his influential brother-in-law along with another security official, all central to directing his crackdown on the uprising against his rule.
The blast, six days of sustained fighting in neighbourhoods across the heart of the capital and the fall of several border posts into rebel hands have pointed to a weakening of Mr Assad’s grip on power.
Yesterday, regime troops regained control of the district of Midan in the southern part of Damascus. But rebels launched a new offensive in other districts in response, activists said.
The fighting came as Muslims around much of the world began marking the holy month of Ramadan, during which the faithful fast from sunrise to sunset.
In a sign of the increasing sectarian split in Syria, the mainly Sunni opposition said it was starting the fast yesterday, along with Saudi Arabia and most Sunni-led Arab nations. The Alawite-led regime, meanwhile, said it would begin today, as will its ally, Shiite-led Iran.
Battles involving troops bringing in tanks, helicopters and mortars have turned parts of Damascus into combat zones and sent thousands of Syrian families, packed in cars, streaming across the border into neighbouring Lebanon.
“Our heroic forces have completely cleansed the Midan area of the terrorist mercenaries,” state TV proclaimed.
It said authorities seized large quantities of weapons including machine guns, explosive belts, rocket-propelled grenades and communications equipment. Damascus activist Khaled al-Shami, contacted via Skype, said rebels carried out a “tactical” retreat early yesterday to spare civilians further shelling after five days of intense clashes between opposition fighters and regime forces. But in an indication of the volatile security situation, the government took local journalists for the trip to Midan inside two armoured personnel carriers.
There they saw scenes of destruction, including dozens of damaged or charred cars and shops with shattered windows. “The Mosque of the Free,” read graffiti scrawled on the outer wall of the local Saeed Bin Zeid Mosque, apparently by opposition supporters who held sway in Midan for days.
The corpses of at least six young men lay on the street. One of them, near the mosque, appeared to have been shot in the chest. Others were bearded and dressed in black with axes next to them. Shops were closed and the litter-strewn streets were almost deserted.
But rebels continued to strike elsewhere in the capital yesterday, attacking a police station on Khaled bin Waleed Street, where heavy fighting was going on, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Clashes were also reported in the northern Barzeh and Rukneddine districts.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Thursday 20 June 2013
Temperature: 11 C to 19 C
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Temperature: 11 C to 18 C
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