Heavy fighting around Syrian capital

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 14, 2012 5:51 AM
Heavy fighting around Syrian capital

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian government forces and rebels were locked in heavy fighting outside Damascus on Tuesday, activists said, in the worst violence in the suburbs of the capital since an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began 16 months ago.

Video published by activists recorded heavy gunfire and explosions. A thick trail of blood on a sidewalk in the suburb of Qudsiya led into a building where one casualty had been taken. A naked man writhed in agony, his body pierced by shrapnel.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported heavy fighting near the Republican Guard headquarters in Qudsiya, and in the suburbs of al-Hama and Mashrou' Dumar, just 9 km (6 miles) outside Damascus.

Samir al-Shami, an activist in Damascus, said tanks and armored vehicles were also out on the streets of the suburbs and some activists reported that one tank had been blown up.

The British-based Observatory, which has a network of activists across Syria, said security forces and armored vehicles stormed the neighborhood of Barzeh, an opposition toehold inside Damascus, and there were sounds of heavy gunfire.

The revolt against Assad's rule has become increasingly violent in response to an army crackdown. Fighting is now reported regularly in Damascus, once considered a bastion of Assad support.

Video shot by anti-government activists in the city of Homs showed detonations from heavy weapons and plumes of black smoke rising over the rooftops of smashed and abandoned buildings.

Aid workers were on their way back to Homs to try to evacuate trapped civilians and wounded, but negotiations are still under way to secure safe access, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in Geneva.

"We cannot foresee when the team will be able to do so." ICRC spokesman Bijan Farnoudi told Reuters.

Aid workers have been seeking access to the flashpoint city since government forces and opposition groups agreed last week to the agency's request for a humanitarian pause in the fighting.

(Reporting by Erika Solomon in Beirut and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva. Editing by Douglas Hamilton and Diana Abdallah)