Mortars hit Syria information ministry, clashes erupt in capital

Reuters News
Posted: Nov 20, 2012 7:52 AM

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Two mortar rounds struck Syria's Information Ministry building in the capital Damascus on Tuesday, state television said, causing some damage but no casualties.

Syrian TV blamed "terrorists" for the attack, referring to insurgents who have been battling to topple President Bashar al-Assad since last year.

The rebels have been trying to take their 20-month-old revolt to the heart of Damascus, Assad's seat of power, and have gained footholds in its southern outskirts and in many surrounding suburbs. Some fighters said the mortars were fired from the urban rebel stronghold of Daraya, which Assad's forces had been bombarding from the air for days.

Fierce fighting has since erupted in Daraya, which is on the southwestern edge of Damascus. The rebels in the area have deployed near the main southern highway leading out of the capital city, opposition activists said.

Elite Republican Guard troops backed by tanks were trying to storm Daraya but met with fierce resistance from rebels there, who have regrouped after a big army offensive on the area killed an estimated 1,100 people six weeks ago.

Fighters around the capital have focused in recent months on carrying out high-profile rocket and car bomb attacks on government buildings that are often more symbolic than lethal. The exception was a major bomb attack that killed at least four high-level government officials in July.

Activist Samir al-Shami said the mortar rounds that hit the Information Ministry building, which is located in the central Mezzeh district of the capital, may actually have been aimed at a football stadium nearby.

"We believe the stadium is being used by the army and has been used to fire mortars on the rebels, so it may have been the target. The rebels may have been responding to army fire," al-Shami told Reuters on Skype.

Assad's forces appeared to be on the alert for intensified attacks this week, which the opposition has dubbed "March to Damascus Week".

Extra checkpoints have been set up around the capital and security forces have placed new restrictions on the movement of residents in some parts of the capital.

Residents say that many families have been planning to leave their homes, out of fear of military campaigns being prepared on either side.

The revolt in Syria, which began as peaceful street protests, has spread across the country and evolved into a civil war in which activists say more than 38,000 people have been killed.

(Reporting by Erika Solomon; additional reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis in Amman; Editing by Mark Heinrich)