Clashes rage near Damascus amid ongoing political efforts for Geneva II

Photo: Clashes rage near Damascus amid ongoing political efforts for Geneva II / Arabic region

Clashes between the rebels and the Syrian troops continued on Monday in the rugged al-Qalamoun region and other areas near the capital Damascus amid ongoing political efforts to make the Geneva II peace conference on Syria successful, Xinhua reported.

The Syrian army intensified operations against the rebels in many areas around the country on Monday, killing dozens and eliminating "terrorists groups" completely, the official SANA news agency said.

In the strategic al-Qalamoun region on the northern rim of Damascus, the Syrian army made noticeable progress in the Nabek town after recapturing the towns of Qara and Deir Attieh in al- Qalamoun.

The progress in al-Qalamoun, a mountain range in western Syria, north of the capital Damascus and near the border of Lebanon, is significant as the army would be able to secure the international road that connects Damascus with the central province of Homs and other provinces in the north as well as cut off the rebels' supply line from neighboring Lebanon.

The army has recently unleashed a wide-scale offensive to regain the towns of al-Qalamoun from the rebels' hands.

Yet, the rebels, in large numbers, have stormed big parts of the Christian town of Maaloula, located 56 km to the northeast of Damascus.

Maaloula, known as one of three places where Western Aramaic is still spoken, holds its significance as it's deemed as one of the oldest cradles of Christianity in Syria.

While the crisis in Syria has taken a sectarian turn, the Syrian government warned last week of the radical rebels' targeting of Christian-dominated districts of Damascus with mortar shells and the attacks against Christian towns outside Damascus amid reports that the rebels have desecrated Churches and its religious symbols.

Also on Monday, two women were killed by mortar attack in northern Aleppo province and three kids killed in the central city of Hama by the blast of an explosive device, according to SANA.

While the current clashes on ground reflect each party's desire to gain more ground before the Geneva II conference, scheduled for Jan. 22, political efforts are being exerted to make the peace talks successful.

Arab League Deputy Secretary General, Ahmed Bin-Hilli, announced Monday that preparatory meetings will take place in Geneva on Jan. 20 ahead of the Geneva II conference.

He said the first meeting will group high-profile officials from the United States, Russia and the United Nations.

The meeting will be followed by an expanded meeting by the Security Council's permanent members as Syria's neighboring countries and the Arab League would hold another meeting. All meetings aimed to prepare for the Geneva II conference.

The goal of Geneva II is to achieve a political solution to the conflict through a comprehensive agreement between the Syrian government and the opposition for the full implementation of the Geneva communique, adopted after the Geneva I conference on Jan. 30, 2012.

Both the government and the opposition said they would attend the conference. However, both of them have expressed skepticism about the success of the conference.

The oppositional Syrian National Coalition (SNC), the main opposition umbrella group in exile, said they want no role for Assad in the transitional period, while the Syrian government said the decisions of the Geneva II must be approved by Assad and put to a referendum.

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