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News, November 2012
Syrian Regime Jets Bomb Damascus Suburb of Daraya for the Second Day
November 21, 2012
Syrian jets bomb Damascus suburb for second day
Wed Nov 21, 2012, 9:03am EST
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis
AMMAN, Nov 21 (Reuters) -
Syrian warplanes bombed a Damascus suburb on Wednesday, opposition activists said, as heavy fighting raged for the second day on the outskirts, challenging President Bashar al-Assad's hold on the capital.
MiG fighter jets hit the suburb of Daraya, a major opposition centre of the 20-month revolt situated amid farmland near the main southern highway, where rebels have been battling elite Republican Guard units.
The pro-government al-Ekhbariya television said the army had begun a campaign to "cleanse" Daraya of what it described as terrorists, and showed troops on the edge of the town, where activists reported 23 people killed in two days.
But rebels and activists suggested that President Bashar al-Assad's forces were finding it harder to dislodge the rebels than when they last entered the suburb in August.
After months of slow progress, the rebels have in the last few weeks captured several army positions on the outskirts of Damascus and outlying regions, including a special forces base near Aleppo, Syria's commercial hub, and an air defence position near the southern gate of the capital, according to activists, video footage and diplomats following the military situation.
Assad's opponents are also gaining some support internationally as a newly formed coalition of opposition and rebel groups seeks recognition as the legitimate voice of the Syrian people, with Britain becoming the ninth country to grant it such status.
NO LONGER A STALEMATE?
Shashank Joshi of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London said the developments of the last few weeks were shifting the balance in favour of the rebels.
"The use of the world 'stalemate' to describe the conflict may no longer be appropriate," he told Reuters by phone. "The rebels have moved up the ladder of warfare."
Fighting was also reported in Damascus's eastern suburb of Irbin, where rebels said they had destroyed one tank and killed two Republican Guards. Irbin is one of many Sunni Muslim suburbs in the farmland around Damascus known as al-Ghouta.
"The whole eastern Ghouta is basically a liberated area. Assad's army still has superior firepower, but is being eroded. It can no longer push forward with a lot of troops," said Abu Ghazi, an activist-turned-fighter in Irbin.
Severe restrictions on non-state media make it impossible to verify such reports independently.
A major offensive to oust Free Syrian Army fighters from Daraya in August killed 1,000 people after rebels took over the town, established a local administration and began attacking loyalist targets in Damascus, according to opposition sources.
But there were suggestions that the latest fight for the suburb might be following a different course.
Live footage broadcast by the opposition on the Internet showed heavy smoke rising from a built-up area in Daraya and carried the sound of automatic gun fire.
"The military picture seems to have changed since August. The regime is sending troops under tank and air cover but they have not really advanced into Daraya," said Abu Kinan, an opposition activist who is still in the town, said by phone.
"Last time the rebels made a decision to withdraw after the army's bombing killed a large number of civilians. There are civilians left in Daraya but the bulk had fled and the fighters are holding their ground," he said.
CHANGE ON THE GROUND
Seven civilians and three rebels were killed in fighting and bombardments on Daraya, opposition sources said.
Two died from shrapnel when artillery hit the basement of a building in which they were sheltering, activists said, and a video posted on YouTube showed the body of a baby at a hospital.
The official state news agency said that "terrorists" - a term it uses for rebels - had attacked shops and homes in Daraya, as well as a mosque.
"Last time the rebels were in Daraya, they worked separately and the regime moved in, drove them out and took revenge on the civilian population," said Fawaz Tello, a veteran opposition campaigner with links to rebels.
"The fact that the rebels have recaptured Daraya and are fending off Assad's best forces indicates a change on the ground," Tello said from Berlin. "The rebels' military position is still difficult, but it is improving."
So far Assad's core military units, composed mainly of members of his Alawite minority sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, have prevented a rebel push into the capital itself.
But Tello said the rebels were gaining strength in Damascus, partly because they were being joined by fighters from outlying regions, especially the southerly Hauran Plain, birthplace of the revolt.
He pointed to guerrilla attacks in the last few days in Hetaytet al-Turkman, near Damascus Airport, and expanding rebel control of the mixed urban and farmland regions around Damascus, although Assad's forces controlled the main road junctions.
RUSI's Joshi said anti-aircraft weapons looted from military bases would blunt what is the government's most important weapon: air power.
These advances, he said, "are all a symptom of tactical improvements. The more they fight, the better they get".
Syrian warplanes bomb Damascus suburbs
November 21, 2012 7:41 a.m.
The Associated Press, BEIRUT –
Syrian warplanes bombed Damascus suburbs and rebel-held areas in the country's north Wednesday as the government blasted the European Union for endorsing a newly formed opposition coalition.
The raids struck several eastern suburbs of the Syrian capital and the strategic northern city of Maaret al-Numan, a key supply route linking Damascus and the commercial hub of Aleppo, said two activist groups. Both the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees also reported violence elsewhere in Syria.
The state-run news agency SANA said the army continued its pursuit of "terrorists" - a government term for rebel fighters - in the Damascus suburb of Arbeen, inflicting casualties on the enemy. The report also said that attackers targeted a mosque in Daraya suburb.
Syria's conflict erupted in March 2011 with an uprising against President Bashar Assad's regime, inspired by other Arab Spring revolts. The crisis has since morphed into a civil war, with scores of rebel groups across the country fighting government troops. Nearly 40,000 people have been killed in the 20 months of unrest, according to activists.
In violence late Tuesday, a mortar round landed near a park in the upscale Abu Rummaneh neighborhood in Damascus, wounding at least three people, the pro-government Al-Ikhbariya TV said.
Assad's regime blames the revolt on a foreign conspiracy and accuses Saudi Arabia and Qatar, along with the United States, other Western countries and Turkey, of funding, training and arming the rebels.
Damascus on Wednesday blasted the European Union for recognizing the newly formed Syrian opposition coalition as a legitimate voice of the Syrian people.
State-run daily Al-Thawra newspaper, a government mouthpiece, derided the coalition formed earlier this month as a "deformed" newborn baby in a front-page editorial, saying all possible "cosmetic surgeries do not bode well for the evolution of this monster."
EU's 27 foreign ministers recognized the Syrian coalition during their monthly meeting this week.
The National Coalition of the Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces was formed Nov. 11 in Qatar under pressure from the United States for a stronger, more united opposition body to serve as a counterweight to the more extremist forces fighting Assad's regime.
The endorsement was a major step forward in the West's acceptance of the group, even as fast-moving events and fluid alliances have cast doubts on the direction of the rebellion. The international support comes at a difficult time for the new coalition as Syria's disparate opposition groups have been long plagued by divisions and in-fighting.
A group of extremist Islamist factions in Syria on Sunday rejected the new coalition, saying in a video statement they have formed an "Islamic state" in the embattled city of Aleppo to underline that they want nothing to do with the Western-backed bloc.
For the government, the Islamists are evidence of the militant and sectarian nature of the conflict. The rebels are mostly Sunni Muslim fighting against Assad's regime which is dominated by members of his minority Alawite sect, an off-shoot of Shiite Islam.
Al-Thawra, the regime paper, said that meeting in Qatar failed to unite the opposition groups to "the extent that some (opposition) groups have announced the establishment of an Islamic State" in Syria.
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