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UN Humanitarian Chief arrives in Syria, as Fighting Intensifies

January 27, 2013

Syrian Protesters Syrian refugees

UN humanitarian chief arrives in Syria

DAMASCUS, Jan. 27, 2013 (Xinhua) --

UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator Valerie Amos arrived in the Syrian capital of Damascus on Sunday for talks on humanitarian issues, sources told Xinhua.

Amos, during her two-day visit, will meet with Syrian officials from the Foreign Ministry, a UN source told Xinhua.

The visit, which is Amos' third one since the unrest in Syria began in 2011, came less than a week after a UN humanitarian delegation visited the hotspots in the conflict-engulfed country and warned of "shocking" and "appalling" situation.

The UN has recently said that about 4 million Syrians are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, at least 2 million of them internally displaced.

Fighting continues around central prison in northwestern Syria

DAMASCUS, Jan. 25, 2013 (Xinhua) --

Intense fighting continued on Friday in the vicinity of the central prison of the country's northwestern province of Idlib, a pro-government TV said.

The fighting in the surroundings of the central prison of Idlib has been dragging on since Friday morning, Khabar TV said, adding that the armed militias have shelled one of the prison's fences with a bombshell.

Quoting a source in the area, the TV said army reinforcements have been sent to the prison as all communications with the facility have been cut off.

The fighting around the prison coincided with intense attacks by armed groups on the military checkpoints in that area, the TV said, adding that 10 gunmen were killed and an unspecified number of soldiers were injured.

It said that the air force took part in repelling the armed opposition's attack against the prison, adding that the city of Idlib is without drinking water for eight days in a row.

Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London- based watchdog, said the prison clashes are still ongoing between fighters from the jihadist battalions of Ahrar al-Sham and Liwa' Suqoor al-Sham and regime forces.

At least 10 rebels have been killed so far in the clashes, said the Observatory. It also said that the rebels bombarded the National hospital in Idlib with several rockets on Friday, adding that there are reports of losses.

The Observatory said clashes also took place at a military checkpoint in al-Shughour village in Idlib, adding that a rebel fighter was killed amid reports that they took control of the checkpoint.

Attacking governmental establishment is becoming increasingly common recently. A day earlier, two suicide car bombs simultaneously ripped through a military security branch in the Sa 'sa countryside of Damascus, completely razing the facility to the ground and killing most of the officers and soldiers inside, media reports said.

The blast coincided with another one that rocked the Damascus' district of Barza and caused property losses. The drumbeat of shelling resounded through most of the districts overnight.

Activists said the rebels Free Army carried the blasts at the security branch and attacks against checkpoints in the suburbs of the capital.

Earlier on Friday, the Syrian artillery blazed through the rebels' strongholds in the southern and western suburbs of Damascus, in what appeared to be a payback for Thursday's attacks. Activists reported many deaths in Friday's violence.

Despite the tense situation, the Syrian government called Thursday on the exiled opposition to return home, promising them immunity in hopes of launching an inclusive national dialogue that could bring an end to the 22-month-old conflict that has killed more than 60,000 people, according to UN figures.

Syrian gov't allows exiled opposition to return home for dialogue, rebels intensify attacks

DAMASCUS, Jan. 25, 2013 (Xinhua) --

The Syrian government has called on the exiled opposition to return home to participate in a national dialogue to end the 22-month conflict, as the rebels intensified attacks on a security branch and checkpoints in the countryside of the capital Damascus.

In a statement issued Thursday evening, Syria's Interior Ministry said the exiled opposition and other Syrians who have fled the country legally or illegally are permitted to come back through certain border points, adding that they would be provided with all facilitation, including the freedom to leave or stay in the country.

The announcement has come in coordination with the Ministry of National Reconciliation, the statement said.

The invitation to the exiled opposition came on the bases of recent proposals by President Bashar al-Assad, who has also talked about a ceasefire and the establishment of a broad-based government and parliament.

Syria's exiled opposition rejected any dialogue even from the very first months of the conflict. The various opposition factions, recently gathered under one umbrella, dismissed Assad's new vision for political solution and set his ouster as a prelude to any solution.

The friendly gesture on the government side was answered by intense fighting and explosions that have rocked several areas in the conflict-torn country.

An overnight blast rocked the suburb of Sa'sa near the capital Damascus on Thursday, leaving undisclosed number of causalities, the state-TV said, stopping short of giving further details.

But an online news website said that two suicide car bombs ripped through a checkpoint and the branch of military security in that area, adding that the second car was rigged with two tons of explosives.

The activists' network, Local Coordination Committees also confirmed the rebels Free Syrian Army blasted the military security branch in Sa'sa area and attacked a checkpoint there as well.

The deadly twin blast was not the only one that rattled the capital overnight, as an explosive device went off in al-Qaimaria area in the old quarter of Damascus, injuring two people, according to local media reports.

Also on Thursday, bomb squads defused an improvised explosive device planted near a park in the Christian-dominated Bab Touma area of Damascus, reports said.

On the opposition side, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said an explosion rocked the Damascus' district of Barzeh late on Thursday.

The group gave no details on human losses but said the blast was caused by an explosive device that ripped through a parked Mercedes in that area.

It was not immediately clear what the target of the explosion was.

The Observatory, meanwhile, said that five civilians, including two women and three men, were gunned down in the Damascus' countryside of Tishreen, adding that pro-government gunmen were behind the killing.

Activists also reported heavy shelling on rebel strongholds in eastern and southern rims of Damascus and elsewhere in the war-engulfed country on Thursday, putting the death toll on Thursday at 116.

Still, the account could not be independently confirmed.

As the violence keeps grinding on, Syria's Minister of Endowment Mohammed Abdel Sattar called for "million-man prayers" to be held on Friday for the peace of Syria and on the occasion of the birthday of Islam Prophet Mohammad.

The prayers will be held at Syria's mosques nationwide on Friday to appeal for the re-establishment of security in the country, which has been gripped by a prolonged crisis that has killed more than 60,000 people, according to a recent UN tally.

Earlier in the day, President al-Assad attended special prayers at a Damascus mosque to mark the prophet's birthday.

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