Syrian conflict enters 22nd month

AFP, BEIRUT and DAMASCUS

Sun, Dec 16, 2012 - Page 6

Syrian troops shelled a besieged town near Damascus and clashed with rebels on the outskirts of the capital yesterday as the country’s conflict entered its 22nd month, a watchdog and activists said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported fierce battles as the army sent in reinforcements and tried to storm the town of Daraya on different fronts.

Army artillery gunners were pounding the town, southwest of Damascus, the monitoring group said, after activists reported that troops had used rocket launchers and heavy artillery on Friday.

“This is the 28th day the criminal [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad forces have attempted to break into the town,” a statement from activists in Daraya read.

Troops tried to storm the town from several directions, but the Daraya Martyrs battalion, a unit of the rebel Free Syrian Army, has kept them at bay, the activists said.

Air and artillery bombardments have focused on Daraya and the nearby town of Mudamiyeh in recent weeks, raising fears of a major ground assault.

Daraya “remains isolated from the outside world due to a communications and power cut for the past 37 days. With ongoing fuel cuts, there is an urgent need for supplies to be restored as winter sets in,” the activists said.

Clashes also erupted in the Palestinian camp of Yarmuk in the south of the capital yesterday between rebels and troops backed by pro-regime Palestinian fighters, the Observatory reported.

The outskirts of Damascus have been at the heart of fighting this month as the regime launches operations to reclaim territory within 8km of the city.

Overnight, the watchdog said, two explosions were heard in the southern Qadam neighborhood, several mortar rounds hit the Barzeh district in the northeast and army artillery targeted northeastern suburbs.

In northern Syria, fighting broke out around the air force intelligence branch in the Zahraa district of Aleppo, according to the Observatory, which relies on a nationwide network of activists and medics.

In the southern province of Daraa, where the anti-regime revolt was born 21 months ago, rebels and troops clashed in the towns of Sheikh Maskin and Izraa, as villages and towns came under army shelling.

The Observatory said 92 people were killed in violence across Syria on Friday, a third of them in and around Damascus.

A total of more than 43,000 people have been killed since the uprising against al-Assad’s rule erupted in March last year, according to the Observatory’s figures.

Meanwhile, Washington and Berlin are preparing to deploy Patriot missiles and troops near Turkey’s border with the Syria.

Washington on Friday announced the deployment of two Patriot missile batteries and 400 support troops to fellow NATO member Turkey.

Germany and The Netherlands also have agreed to provide advanced “hit-to-kill” Patriot weapons, which are designed to knock out cruise and ballistic missiles as well as aircraft.

On Friday, the German parliament approved sending the missiles along with up to 400 US soldiers. Last week, the Dutch Cabinet also gave a go-ahead for Patriots, along with a maximum 360 soldiers to operate them.

A joint statement by EU leaders on Friday said they were “appalled by the increasingly deteriorating situation in Syria” and looking at “all options” to help the opposition and protect civilians.