Syria: Army bids to blast rebels out from suburbs of Damascus

A burned-out bus in a district of Aleppo is testament to the recent shelling. Picture: Reuters
A burned-out bus in a district of Aleppo is testament to the recent shelling. Picture: Reuters
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Syrian army forces pounded rebel-held suburbs around Damascus with rockets from fighter jets all day yesterday, activists said, killing at least ten and wounding dozens in an offensive to stop rebels closing in on the capital.

Rebels planned to push into the city centre from their strongholds on the outskirts and fighting has been fierce. The army sent reinforcements after a week of rebel advances, including the capture of two military bases near the capital.

Activists said the heavy rocket attacks yesterday killed at least ten in the town of Deir al-Asafir, seven miles east of Damascus.

Video published by activists from the town showed at least five bodies, one of them a young boy and one an elderly man.

Syria’s 20-month-old uprising has grown increasingly bloody in recent months, and activists say more than 40,000 have died. More than 200 people were killed on Saturday according to the opposition-linked Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, with at least 43 dead around Damascus and its suburbs.

Syrian security sources and diplomatic contacts said that government forces had launched an offensive in the past few days in a move to seal central Damascus off from the suburbs. The army’s assault appears to have staved off a rebel advance into central Damascus so far. But neither side has gained ground in recent days, and fighting continues along the outskirts of the city.

Clashes around Damascus International Airport went into their fourth day yesterday. It has effectively been closed since Thursday when the army tried to push back rebels there who say the entire airport road had become a battleground.

“The Free Syrian Army is striking the reinforcements trying to enter the airport to help the regime’s forces ... there are clashes all along the airport road,” said Abu Nidal, a rebel spokesman in Damascus, speaking by Skype.

Rebels say they want to control the airport because the army has used it to bring in weapons.

American officials say that arms flow has continued due to Iraqi reluctance to check flights, according to a New York Times investigation this weekend. It said only two inspections had occurred since Iraq agreed to a US request in September and that Iran may have been tipped off about the searches.

Prime minister Nuri al-Maliki told reporters in a press conference in Baghdad that there was no such request.

“There is no ability to inspect all planes destined to Syria and there was no US request to inspect all aircraft because they know that this is not possible,” he said yesterday.

In Syria’s central city of Homs, a car bomb killed at least 15 people and wounded 24 yesterday, Syria’s state news agency SANA said. There has been a rise in the number of car bombs around the country. The British-based Observatory, which has a network of activists across Syria, reported four car bombs on Saturday.

State television yesterday said the army had been “eliminating al-Qaeda terrorists” in several suburbs surrounding Damascus including the rebel stronghold of Daraya. The army entered part of Daraya, rebels said, a suburb on the southern outskirts of Damascus. Rebel spokesman Abu Nidal said the army had entered one side of the town but that rebels were still in control of the rest of the area and were fighting back.