Damascus rocked by 'intense' fighting
16 July 2012, 10:25
Damascus - Syria's army blasted rebel strongholds in
Damascus with mortars on Sunday, sparking the "most intense" fighting
in the capital since the revolt erupted 16 months ago, a monitoring
The army's offensive, aimed at driving rebels of the
Free Syrian Army (FSA) out of Damascus, was launched soon after the
foreign ministry held a press conference to deny its troops had carried
out a massacre in Treimsa village.
"The regular army fired mortar
rounds into several suburbs" where FSA rebels are entrenched, said Rami
Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
fighting was heaviest in the Tadamon, Kfar Sousa, Nahr Aisha and Sidi
Qadad neighbourhoods, he said. Six civilians were reported killed in the
"[It has] never been this intense," Abdel Rahman said.
"The security forces are attempting to take control of these neighbourhoods but so far they have not succeeded," he added.
Local Co-ordination Committees, which organise anti-regime protests in
Syria, said plumes of black smoke were billowing out of Tadamon late on
Sunday and that loud explosions had been heard in Nahr Aisha.
Britain-based Observatory said violence across Syria on Sunday had
killed 105 people - 48 civilians, 16 rebels and 41 soldiers.
main opposition coalition, the Syrian National Council (SNC), hailed the
insurgents fighting army troops in the capital, accusing the regime of
having transformed rebel neighbourhoods into "a battlefield".
revolution is spreading and has tightened the noose around the regime
in zones where it thought it was beyond the anger of the people," SNC
spokesperson Georges Sabra said in a speech shown on Arab satellite
"We place on the Arab League and the international
community the responsibility for any disastrous result from what is
going on in Homs and Damascus," he added.
Rights activists say
more than 150 people were massacred by Syrian troops backed by
pro-regime shabiha militiamen on Thursday in the central village of
If the number is confirmed,
this would be one of the bloodiest episodes of the uprising against
President Bashar al-Assad, which rights activists say has cost more than
17 000 lives since March 2011.
But foreign ministry spokesperson
Jihad Makdissi vehemently denied both the allegations of a massacre and
the number of people reportedly killed.
"What happened was not a
massacre ... It was a clash between regular forces and armed groups who
do not believe in a peaceful solution," Makdissi told reporters in
Makdissi also denied activists' allegations that helicopters and heavy weapons had been used in the assault on Treimsa.
is absolutely not true. Only troop carriers and light weapons were
used, the most powerful of weapons being RPGs [rocket-propelled
grenades]," he said.
Makdissi said "only five buildings, where there were very sophisticated weapons, were targeted".
Pools of blood
dismissing allegations of more than 150 killed, he said that "37 armed
men were killed and two civilians only", citing an unidentified source
who claimed to have buried them.
The UN Supervision Mission in
Syria said a team of "specialised civilian and military experts" had
visited Treimsa on Sunday to continue their investigation into the
reports of the mass killing.
"The integrated patrol ... observed
over 50 houses that were burned and/or destroyed. Pools of blood and
brain matter were observed in a number of homes," UNSMIS spokesperson
Sausan Ghosheh said in a statement.
"On the basis of some of the
destruction observed in the town and the witness accounts, the attack
appears targeted at army defectors and activists," she added.
"The number of casualties is still unclear."
The Treimsa incident has galvanised international diplomatic efforts over the crisis.
Division over sanctions
Monday, UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan and UN Secretary General Ban
Ki-moon are headed respectively for Russia and China to press the two UN
Security Council members to back tougher action against Assad's regime.
The visits by Annan and Ban come at a crucial new stage in the conflict.
The Security Council has until Friday to renew the UN mission in Syria but is divided over Western calls to add sanctions.
divided that maybe Annan and Ban now have the most influence over
Russia and China to get anything done," said one senior UN council
diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.
A draft statement
which said the Syria government was in "violation" of its international
commitments was circulated among the 15 Council nations on Friday,
Russia's envoys said they could not agree. Russia
has led the resistance and Annan was to meet President Vladimir Putin
and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during two days of talks in Moscow,
said his spokesperson Ahmad Fawzi.
China has supported Russia's position and Ban heads for Beijing on Monday, officially for a China-Africa summit.
But Syria will top his agenda when he meets President Hu Jintao and other senior leaders, said a UN official.