#Syria Nov 19/12 FSA (Ansar al-Islam and Jund Allah Brigades) seize air defence base south of Hajar Al Aswad
ALEPPO // Battles raged through the night and into roday in Syria’s second city Aleppo, a monitoring group said, as activists reported clashes in the Palestinian Yarmouk camp in Damascus.
The battles in Aleppo followed a day of heavy fighting there and came after Syria’s regime rushed reinforcements to the city, where rebels on July 20 launched an all-out assault for control of the country’s commercial hub.
“There are clashes in the Muhafaza district and shelling on the Mushhad and Sheikh Badr neighbourhoods, which killed a child and injured seven people,” the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Aleppo’s Salaheddin neighbourhood, scene of fierce fighting for days, was also bombarded by regime troops during the night, the group said.
The Observatory also reported 19 civilians and three rebels killed in Aleppo fighting yesterday but did not give a separate toll of soldiers killed in the city.
Despite the fighting, there were “mass demonstrations in the Furqan, Ashrafiyeh and New Aleppo districts calling for the fall of the regime and the departure of President Bashar al-Assad,” it said.
Several rural villages and towns in the Aleppo province were being shelled by the Syrian army.
In Damascus, street battles were being fought on Thursday in the Palestinian Yarmouk camp in the south of the capital, the Observatory said.
“There are clashes on Street 30 in the Yarmouk camp between Syrian regime forces and fighters from rebel units. Explosions can be heard,” it said.
A resident of the camp reached by phone confirmed the fighting.
“It started at 7am. The night was quiet. They are using RPGs and heavy machineguns,” he said.
After a week of heavy clashes in Damascus, activists say regime forces have largely regained control of the city, with only a few pockets of rebel resistance remaining.
An activist in the southern neighbourhood of Tadamun, who gave his name as Abu Qais Al Shami, said several districts in the southern part of the city were under assault on Thursday by regime forces.
“Last night was quiet but people woke up to the sound of explosions and shelling from seven o’clock in the morning,” he said.
Aside from Yarmouk, the neighbourhoods of Tadamun and Al Hajar Al Aswad were also being shelled, he said.
“Tanks have been deployed on Street 30 [in Yarmouk], where there are also a large number of snipers. Some people have been killed and dozens of wounded have been taken to the Basil Hospital,” he said.
The Observatory also reported fighting in Deir Ezzor in the east of Syria, where it said two people were killed overnight, including one shot by a sniper.
In an updated toll today, the Observatory said 143 people were killed throughout Syria yesterday, including 75 civilians, 41 soldiers and 27 rebel fighters.
Rebels declared the battle to “liberate” Damascus has begun as heavy fighting raged across the city yesterday and Russia said an agreement is possible for a UN resolution on the Syria crisis.
The proclamation by the Free Syrian Army, which also claimed it had shot down a helicopter in the capital, came as peace envoy Kofi Annan said the 16-month crisis increasingly described as a civil war was at a “critical time”.
Heavy machinegun fire was reported in Damascus’s Sabaa Bahrat Square, where President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has staged rallies to counter anti-regime protests that erupted in March 2011.
At least 19 people were killed as tanks and helicopter gunships were deployed in Qaboon district and battles were fought in Al Midan and Al Hajar Al Aswad, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
As the fighting inched closer to the regime’s nerve centre, FSA spokesman Colonel Kassem Saadeddine said “victory is nigh” and the struggle would go on until the city was conquered.
“We have transferred the battle from Damascus province to the capital. We have a clear plan to control the whole of Damascus. We only have light weapons, but it’s enough.”
“Expect surprises,” Saadeddine added, before adding later that rebels had downed a helicopter over Qaboon, although an activist in the district said there was “no foundation” to the report.
Fighting in the city has raged since Sunday, with the rebels announcing a full-scale offensive dubbed “the Damascus volcano and earthquakes of Syria”.
An activist who said he was in Al Midan neighbourhood said the army was shelling the neighbourhood “hysterically”.
“The collapsing regime has gone mad,” the man calling himself Abu Musab said via Skype.
“The army has tried to storm the district, but the Free Syrian Army has stopped them. So they have intensified their shelling. They are shelling everything,” he said.
AFP could not independently verify the account.
Witnesses also reported heavy machinegun fire in Sabaa Bahrat Square in central Damascus and in nearby Baghdad Street.
But an army officer in Damascus said troops have “the situation under control” and were “chasing the terrorists seeking refuge in apartments and mosques”.
The source said “battles raged” in Qaboon, “where the majority of rebels were”, adding that “33 terrorists were killed, 15 were wounded and 145 were arrested,” referring to rebels.
The regime has vowed not to surrender the capital.
In that context, the Israeli army’s intelligence chief said Syrian troops had been moved from the Golan Heights towards conflict zones including Damascus.
“Assad has removed many of his forces that were in the Golan Heights to the areas of conflict,” Major General Aviv Kochavi told MPs.
“Radical Islam” was gaining ground, he warned, adding that Syria was undergoing a process of “Iraqisation”, with militant and tribal factions controlling different zones.
In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin told Annan that he would “do everything” to support the UN-Arab League peace envoy’s plan to end the conflict.
Annan told Putin “the Syrian crisis is at a critical time.”
Later, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he saw “no reason why we cannot also agree at the UN Security Council. We are ready for this.”
Annan added: “The Council, I expect, will be sending out a message that the killings must stop and that the situation on the ground is unacceptable.”
Annan’s Moscow meetings came one day before Western powers plan to hold a vote on a UN resolution that threatens sanctions against Damascus.
The council must also vote to decide on renewing the 300-strong UN Supervision Mission in Syria, deployed to monitor an April 12 ceasefire Assad agreed with Annan.
UN leader Ban Ki-moon “called on Russia to use its influence to ensure the full and immediate implementation” of Annan’s plan in a telephone call with Lavrov, a spokesman said.
Ban was due in Beijing yesterday, also on a mission to get support for tougher action on Syria.
Russia and China have twice blocked resolutions against Syria at the Security Council, which remains divided over Western calls to impose new sanctions.
On a visit to Syria’s neighbour Jordan, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the crisis is too unpredictable to rule out “any option”.
Stepping up the pressure, French President Francois Hollande said “the Russians must understand that they cannot be seen as the only ones or almost the only ones hindering the search for a solution.”
As wrangling continued over rival resolution drafts, the Security Council expressed concern about fallout from the conflict in Lebanon, UN diplomats said.
UN envoy to Lebanon Derek Plumbly said there was “concern about the pressures on the Lebanese border in recent weeks, incursions and shooting across the border”.
The Observatory said at least 35 people were killed across Syria yesterday, 16 of them civilians, adding to its toll of more than 17,000 people dead since the uprising began.
Meanwhile, Nawaf Fares, who became the most prominent figure to abandon Assad when he defected as Syria’s ambassador to Iraq, warned the regime will use chemical weapons against opposition forces and may have already deployed them.
Another key defector, General Manaf Tlass, a childhood friend of Assad, said in a statement sent to AFP that he was in Paris and called for a “constructive transition” in the country.
Syrian forces open fire with live ammunition on demonstrators in Damascus as unrest spreads in the capital
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 21 February 2012 07.45 GMT
Demonstrators protest against President Assad in Damascus last week. International diplomacy has shown little sign of finding a solution. Photograph: Handout/Reuters
Syrian forces opened fire with live ammunition on demonstrators in Damascus in the early hours of Tuesday, wounding at least four people, according to activists, as unrest continued to spread in the capital.
Demonstrations and clashes with security forces have rocked Damascus in the past week, undermining President Bashar al-Assad’s claims that the 11-month uprising has been the work of saboteurs and limited mainly to the provinces.
International diplomacy has shown little sign of finding a solution, as western powers and the Arab League prepared a meeting of Friends of Syria on Friday to pressure Assad to step down, while Russia and China backed his reform plans, derided by Syria’s opposition.
“There were hundreds of demonstrators at the main square of Hajar al-Aswad, and suddenly buses of security police and shabbiha [pro-Assad militia] turned up and started firing into the crowd,” activist Abu Abdallah said on Tuesday.
He said the four wounded were taken to be treated in people’s homes.
Footage posted on YouTube, purportedly taken before the shooting, showed a crowd marching in the neighbourhood of Hajar al-Aswad carrying placards in support of the besieged city of Homs and singing “Eyes are shedding tears for the martyrs among Syria’s youth”.
Elsewhere, an activists’ group in Kfar Tkharim near the Turkish border said rebels had killed five soldiers and captured two during an ambush of a government column.
Opposition activists said five people had been killed in government shelling of Homs’s Baba Amr district on Monday, adding to a reported death toll of several hundred since the military operation began there on 3 February. And activists in the western city of Hama said troops, police and militias had set up dozens of roadblocks, cutting neighbourhoods off from each other.
The Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross, the only international organisation deploying aid workers in Syria, said it was in talks with the authorities and opposition fighters for a ceasefire to bring life-saving aid to civilians.
Diplomatic sources said it was seeking a two-hour ceasefire in besieged areas including Homs. Residents there say they are running out of food, water and medicine after weeks of bombardment by Assad’s forces.
Western and Arab countries who are seeking Assad’s removal are preparing an explicit gesture of support for his opponents.
The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, said the Friends of Syria group, meeting in Tunisia, would “demonstrate that Assad’s regime is increasingly isolated and that the brave Syrian people need our support and solidarity”.
But Assad, who has received support from Russia, China and Iran, is forging ahead with plans to hold a referendum on Sunday on a new constitution, which the opposition dismisses as a stunt to cling to power.
“We’ll send a clear message to Russia, China and others who are still unsure about how to handle the increasing violence but are up until now unfortunately making the wrong choices,” Clinton said in Mexico at a meeting of the G20 countries.
Germany said the European Union would probably impose more sanctions against Syria in the coming week. Western sanctions have so far had little impact without support from Russia and China for measures at the UN security council.
Assad met a senior Russian politician in Damascus on Monday, who reiterated Moscow’s support for his self-styled reform programme and spoke out against any foreign intervention. China has accused western countries of stirring up civil war.
Nevertheless, the Arab League, which has suspended Syria and called for Assad to step down, said there were signs Russia and China could temper their support for him.
“There are indications coming from China and to some extent from Russia that there may be a change in position,” the Arab League secretary-general, Nabil Elaraby, told a news conference in Cairo.
Russia and China vetoed a draft UN security council resolution this month that would have backed an Arab plan calling for Assad to step down. The two countries also voted against a non-binding resolution in the general assembly last week that backed the Arab plan.
Russia’s ambassador to the UN said Moscow would soon offer proposals on humanitarian relief for Syria in the security council, but gave few details.
“It seems to me that it would be possible now to take concrete steps aimed at resolving humanitarian issues, relying on the fact that very recently, a few days ago, Damascus allowed the International Red Cross to deliver humanitarian aid to certain regions that ended up in the conflict zone,” Vitaly Churkin told state-run Rossiya-24 television in an interview.
“It can be expected that in the coming days, Russia will put forward certain proposals on that account in the security council.”
Assad’s government says it is battling a foreign-backed insurgency by terrorists, and that it is committed to meeting real demand for democracy with the referendum on a new constitution, leading to multi-party elections within 90 days.
The west and Syrian opposition figures have dismissed the plan as a joke, saying it is impossible to have a valid election amid the continuing repression.