Wed, Feb 01, 2012 - Page 1 News List

Syrian forces retake Damascus suburbs, as UN battle brews

Reuters, Amman and United Nations

Syrian government forces reasserted control of Damascus suburbs yesterday after beating back rebels at the capital’s gates as diplomatic pressure mounted on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at the UN.

Western and Arab diplomats pushed for a UN Security Council resolution, which would call for al-Assad to step down to defuse a 10-month-old uprising against his family’s dynastic rule.

They will make the case for a resolution adopting a plan by the Arab League for al-Assad to quit, with US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe and British Foreign Secretary William Hague presenting a united Western front.

The resolution’s fate depends on whether the Arabs and their Western backers can persuade Russia not to veto it. However, a senior Russian diplomat said in Moscow the move would only set the stage for civil war, Interfax news agency reported.

“The Western draft Security Council resolution on Syria will not lead to a search for compromise,” it quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov as saying. “Pushing it is a path to civil war.”

On the battlefront, activists in eastern districts of Damascus said troops fired in the air as they advanced beyond areas from which the defector Free Syrian Army withdrew, capping three days of fighting that activists said killed at least 100 people. Tanks also swarmed into the area.

“The suburbs are under an unannounced curfew. A small grocery shop opened this morning and soldiers came and beat the owner and forced him to shut down,” an activist in the Ain Tarma neighborhood said yesterday.

Others said residents of some eastern districts were allowed to flee their neighborhoods in vehicles by advancing troops, but that security forces in the district of Irbin rounded up young men at gunpoint and detained them.

Events on the ground are difficult to confirm as the Syrian government restricts most access by journalists.

Activist groups said 25 people were killed on Monday in Damascus suburbs and dozens more died in other parts of the country, mostly in raids in and around the central city of Homs, which has seen some of the heaviest attacks by al-Assad’s forces.

Government troops were on the move as Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby and the prime minister of Qatar readied the appeal to the Security Council to back their call for al-Assad to quit power and prepare for elections.

A last-ditch bid by Moscow to broker talks between al-Assad’s government and rebels foundered when the opposition refused to attend, citing the continued killing, torture and imprisonment of the president’s opponents.

Washington said countries needed to accept that al-Assad’s rule was doomed and stop shielding him in the Security Council.

“It is important to calculate into your considerations the fact that he will go,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Monday.

Syria dismissed the remarks.

“We are not surprised at the lack of wisdom or rationality of these statements and regret that they are still issued by countries that are used to making the Middle East an arena for their follies and failures,” the state news agency quoted a foreign ministry source as saying.

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