Syrian troops yesterday were battling armed rebels in parts of Damascus and the second city Aleppo, activists said, as the regime spurned Arab League calls for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down.
Meanwhile, the Syrian Foreign Ministry said chemical weapons would be used only in the event of an external attack on the country, amid growing international concerns Damascus is preparing to deploy its entire arsenal against the rebels.
Jittery residents reported hearing gunfire and explosions into the early hours of the morning in the upscale Mazzeh neighborhood of west Damascus, while activists reported shelling in several other flashpoint neighborhoods.
Syrian state TV reported an assault on Mazzeh, calling the operation “targeted and quick.”
The broadcaster showed footage of troops firing as they entered part of the neighborhood and featured an interview with one soldier.
Regime forces also “chased the remnants of the terrorists in Barzeh,” in the northeast of Damascus, the report said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the government offensive in Barzeh was being spearheaded by “the feared Fourth Brigade” commanded by al-Assad’s powerful younger brother, Republican Guard and Fourth Armored Division Commander Maher al-Assad, and has sparked a mass exodus of residents.
The Local Coordination Committees (LCC), which organizes activists on the ground in Syria, meanwhile reported that military reinforcements were sent during the night to a number of Damascus neighborhoods rocked by clashes since the rebels announced the launch of “Operation Damascus Volcano” a week ago.
The LCC also reported fierce clashes during the night and into the morning between rebel forces and Syrian troops in Aleppo, where the rebel Free Syrian Army says a war of “liberation” is underway.
Arab League foreign ministers met on Sunday in Doha and called on al-Assad to “renounce power,” promising that he and his family would be offered “a safe exit.”