Syrian army batters parts of Damascus, 47 killed
The Syrian army shelled southern Damascus on Wednesday and helicopters fired rockets and machineguns during an assault meant to shore up President Bashar al-Assad's grip on the capital 17 months into an uprising, opposition activists said.
The army has this week used tanks and helicopter gunships in an offensive around Damascus that coincided with the departure of U.N. military observers, their mission to stop the bloodshed and nudge Syria towards a peaceful transition a failure, Reuters reported.
The United Nations estimates that more than 18,000 people have been killed in what has become a civil war after the state's violent response to peaceful street protests triggered an armed rebellion in the pivotal Arab country.
Anti-Assad activists said at least 47 people had been killed in Damascus in what they called the heaviest bombardment this month. "The whole of Damascus is shaking with the sound of shelling," said a woman in Kfar Souseh, one of several districts hit in the military offensive to root out rebel fighters.
The United Nations said some of the weapons being used by government forces appeared to have been supplied by Iran, in violation of a U.N. resolution which banned such exports.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will raise the Syria crisis with Iran at a summit of non-aligned developing nations in Tehran next week, a U.N. spokesman said.
As the army continued to shell southern Damascus, activists said at least 22 people had been killed in Kfar Souseh and 25 in the nearby district of Nahr Eisha.
One of the dead was named as Mohammad Saeed al Odeh, a journalist employed at a state-run newspaper who was sympathetic to the anti-Assad revolt. Activists said he had been executed in Nahr Eisha.
"There are 22 tanks in Kfar Souseh now and behind each one there are at least 30 soldiers. They are raiding houses and executing men," an opposition activist in Kfar Souseh, who gave his name only as Bassam, told Reuters by Skype.
More than 250 people, including 171 civilians, were killed across Syria on Tuesday, mostly around Damascus, Aleppo and the southern city of Deraa, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based opposition monitoring group.
Activists in the southwestern Damascus suburb of Mouadamiya said Assad's forces had killed 86 people there since Monday, half of them by execution. It was not possible to verify that report.
There was no immediate government account of the latest fighting. But state television broadcast footage of weapons it said had been seized from rebels in Mouadamiya, one of the first districts to join the uprising.
The conflict, which pits a mainly Sunni Muslim opposition against a ruling system dominated by Assad's Alawite minority, threatens to destabilize neighbors including Lebanon, where Sunni-Alawite violence flared for a third day.
The death toll from the fighting in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli rose to at least 10 with more than 100 wounded, medical sources said, in what residents said were some of the fiercest clashes there since Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war.
The Syria conflict has revived old tensions in Tripoli between pro-Assad Alawites in the hilltop district of Jebel Mohsen and their Sunni neighbors in Bab al-Tabbaneh below.