BEIRUT: Heavy fighting between rebels and President Bashar Assad’s forces broke out in parts of Damascus on Wednesday in some of the worst violence to hit the Syrian capital in weeks.
Activists said the clashes were focused in the city’s western districts, and residents in the heart of Damascus said the heavy thud of shelling emanating from the neighborhoods under attack was louder than in recent months, when government forces tried to dislodge rebels from the capital’s suburbs.
Damascus has not seen the scale of violence that has destroyed whole neighborhoods in Syria’s other urban centers like Aleppo and Homs. While the government has lost control of parts of those cities, it has kept a tight grip on the capital despite the rebels’ attempts to storm the city center from their enclaves in its outskirts.
Abdul-Rahman, director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights activist group, said Wednesday’s shelling of Jobar and Qaboun is part of a wider government offensive on the towns and villages on the capital’s doorstep that have been opposition strongholds since the beginning of the uprising against Assad in March 2011. A government official said army troops are chasing rebels in the suburbs of Harasta, Sbeineh, and Jober. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.
Fighting also erupted in the central province of Homs, where a blast targeting a military complex early Wednesday killed an unknown number people, the SANA state news and activists said. There were conflicting reports about the nature of the explosion in the city of Palmyra. The Observatory said a car bomb blew up near a compound that houses a military intelligence branch and a state security agency, killing several regime troops. SANA said two suicide bombers detonated cars packed with explosives near a garage in a residential area of the city, killing a number of people, wounding dozens and causing significant material damage in the area.
After the blast, rebels clashed with government soldiers guarding the compound, according to the Observatory, which relies on reports from activists on the ground.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, although car bombs and suicide attacks targeting state institutions have been a hallmark of Islamic militants fighting alongside Syrian rebels aiming to topple Assad, whose family has ruled Syria for more than 40 years.
The United Nations say more than 60,000 people have been killed since conflict started in March 2011. At least 700,000 Syrians have fled their homes, seeking shelter in neighboring countries like Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, and more than one million people have been displaced within Syria during 22 months of fighting, according to aid agencies.