Troops seize Damascus suburbs back from rebels

January 30, 2012

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

(Reuters) – Troops seized eastern suburbs of Damascus from rebels late on Sunday, opposition activists said, after two days of fighting only a few kilometers from the centre of power of President Bashar al-Assad.

“The Free Syrian Army has made a tactical withdrawal. Regime forces have re-occupied the suburbs and started making house-to-house arrests,” an activist named Kamal said by phone from the eastern al-Ghouta area on the edge of the capital.

A spokesman for the Free Syrian Army of defectors fighting Assad’s forces appeared to confirm that account.

“Tanks have gone in but they do not know where the Free Syrian Army is. We are still operating close to Damascus,” Maher al-Naimi told Reuters by phone from Turkey.

Activists said earlier on Sunday soldiers had moved into the suburbs at dawn, along with at least 50 tanks and other armored vehicles. At least 19 civilians and rebel fighters were killed in that initial attack, they said.

Fighters had taken over districts less than eight km (five miles) from the heart of the city. The areas have seen repeated protests against Assad’s rule and crackdowns by troops in the 10-month-old uprising.

“It’s urban war. There are bodies in the street,” said an activist speaking from the suburb of Kfar Batna.

Residents of central Damascus reported seeing soldiers and police deployed around main squares.

The escalating bloodshed prompted the Arab League to suspend the work of its monitors on Saturday. Arab foreign ministers, who have urged Assad to step down and make way for a government of national unity, will discuss the crisis on February 5.

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