Syria rebels retreat after seizing area near capital

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 21, 2012 6:09 PM
Syria rebels retreat after seizing area near capital

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian rebels seized parts of the town of Douma near the capital Damascus on Saturday and then withdrew to their hideouts, activists said.

Night-time gunbattles and explosions rocked Douma, 14 kilometres (9 miles) northwest of the capital, activists said. Douma has been a centre of protests in the 10-month revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.

The head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the fighters retreated to their hideouts once they had pushed state forces outside of Douma.

"It seems they chose not to hold on to the territory, most likely because it could offer the regime an excuse to storm the area," Rami Abdelrahman told Reuters.

The fighting posed no direct threat to Damascus itself but may be seen as too close for comfort to the government, which has launched a heavy crackdown since unrest began in March.

One resident told Reuters the move marked the first time rebels, who call themselves the Free Syrian Army, held territory in Douma for an extended period of time.

"No one can get in or out of Douma right now. This is the first time the rebels do anything more than hit-and-run attacks. Tonight they started making barriers in the streets," an activist living in Douma told Reuters by Skype.

The fighting began on Saturday afternoon, after security forces killed four people when they fired on a funeral march for a slain protester. Ensuing clashes left dozens wounded, activists said.

Activists on Skype from Douma and the neighbouring town of Harasta said troops were gathered outside the rebellious suburb.

Another resident in Douma told Reuters she had not heard of the temporary takeover of the suburb but had heard a large explosion.

"One of the explosions was so loud it felt like the whole city shook," another activist told Reuters on Skype.

(Reporting by Erika Solomon; Editing by Myra MacDonald)