Rebels, government forces clash in Syrian capital

Rebels, government forces clash in Syrian capital

Fighting erupted between rebels and forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus on Monday, which activists said were the heaviest clashes in the capital since a popular uprising began last year, dpa reported.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said two loyalist soldiers and four defectors were killed in the clashes. The group's director, Rami Abdul-Rahman, said another six defectors were missing and their fate remained unclear.

However, activists in Damascus put the death toll much higher, at 80.

Reports from Syria cannot be independently verified because foreign journalists are largely banned.

The clashes erupted in the upscale western neighbourhood of al-Mezzeh, which is home to embassies and heavily fortified government security buildings.

The attack there by rebels came after recent successful operations by government forces in rebellious strongholds in the central city of Homs and the northern city of Idlib.

Quoting a local resident in the neighbourhood, Abdul-Rahman told dpa that rebels attacked the house of a senior loyalist officer in the area.

"They are the most serious clashes, and so far the closest to security installations in the capital", Abdul-Rahman said.

Syria's state-run television said "two terrorists and a member of the security forces were killed."

The broadcaster aired footage showing the burnt top two floors of an apartment building. Walls inside the flats were blackened by smoke and stairways riddled with bullet and shrapnel holes.

Government forces blocked roads leading to al-Mezzeh, searched houses and arrested suspects, activists said.

"The government forces have now entered the area of al-Qaboon and started house-to-house searches looking for rebels," activist Haytham al-Abdullah told dpa by phone from Damascus.

Government forces continued also launched attacks in the northern province of Idlib near the border with Turkey, killing 10 people. In Homs, six people were killed in government shelling attacks on the neighbourhoods of Bab al-Sibaa and Khalidiyeh, activists said.

The continuing violence has again raise concern that Syria was sliding toward a civil war, more than one year after popular protests against al-Assad erupted.

Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi on Monday expressed concern that the escalating violence in Syria could lead to a civil war and urged the United Nations Security Council to pass a resolution to secure the transfer of humanitarian aid.

"I am very much concerned about the deterioration of the situation, which could lead to a civil war," al-Arabi told reporters in Brussels.

Al-Arabi said the UN Security Council should approve "a clear-cut, mandatory resolution ... to stop the fighting and provide an appropriate mechanism for supervision" to allow in humanitarian aid.

A team of experts dispatched to Syria by UN-Arab League envoy for Syria Kofi Annan to discuss proposals to deploy international monitors held talks in Damascus with government officials.

A separate team from the United Nations and the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has also launched a mission to assess the humanitarian situation. The team will visit Homs and the southern city of Daraa.

The OIC said that the mission is "strictly nonpolitical in nature and seeks to observe first-hand the overall humanitarian situation and conditions in various towns and cities."

Meanwhile, a Russian navy ship with a unit of anti-terrorist marines aboard arrived in the Syrian port of Tartus on Monday, Russian officials said.

The military tanker joined a Russian naval reconnaissance and surveillance ship already in Tartus.

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