Clashes in Syrian capital revive calls for action against Bashar al-Assad

July 17, 2012

 and , The Guardian

The most intense clashes seen in Damascus since the start of the Syrian uprising flared on Monday as loyalist units and guerilla forces battled near the city centre.

The ongoing fighting is believed to involve close to 1,000 opposition fighters and regime forces backed by armoured units, including tanks. Residents say fighting is centred in the suburbs of Midan and Zehera, not far from some of the capital’s most secure areas.

There have also been clashes in the Tadamoun and Nahr Aisha neighbourhoods.

Witnesses say key sites, such as ministries and the presidential palace, remain far from the fighting. However, the road to the nearby Damascus international airport was closed for an hour on Monday morning, the first time that has happened since the initial anti-regime demonstrations in March last year.

Now, almost 17 months later, an armed opposition is continuing to show signs of being able to hold ground in strategically important areas, a far cry from even three months ago, when rebel groups were focusing on hit-and-run operations.

Damascus remains heavily defended by at least two loyalist divisions, which are not known to have suffered from defections among senior ranks. A wide variety of other loyalist forces and intelligence units have also been tasked with defending the power base of the regime.

Fighting started in Damascus on Sunday afternoon after opposition groups were seen advancing near Midan and staging for what appeared to be an assault. They were engaged by regime forces, which have so far been unable to rout them despite superior firepower.

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