Feared al-Assad forces in Damascus attack

2012-07-22 18:31

Damascus - Feared forces headed by President Bashar al-Assad's brother used helicopters on Sunday in a new offensive against rebels in Damascus, as clashes also raged in Syria's second city Aleppo, activists said.

The Fourth Brigade headed by Maher al-Assad was leading the assault in the Damascus neighbourhood of Barzeh, triggering an exodus of residents, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Activists on the ground also reported heavy fire at Barzeh, in the northeast of the capital.

"Dozens of tanks are besieging scores of wounded people. A medical team could not reach [the area] because of the presence of military and security forces," the Observatory said, warning that lives were at risk if the siege continued.

The monitoring group estimated that more than 19 000 people have been killed in the 16-month uprising against the Assad family's four decades of iron-fisted rule.

With the nationwide death toll for Sunday standing at at least 19 on Sunday, according to the Observatory, a rebel Free Syrian Army commander declared the battle to "liberate" the second-biggest city of Aleppo had begun.

In a YouTube video, the FSA military council's Colonel Abdel Jabbar al-Oqaidi said the rebels would protect civilians, notably "the minorities - Christians, Armenians, Assyrians, Kurds, Alawites, Shi'ites and Druze" among others.

"Regime forces are using helicopters to pound the Barzeh district," an activist who identified himself as Abu Omar told AFP via Skype.

"Families are trying to flee their homes, but it is difficult to get out of the neighbourhood. It is surrounded, and violence on the edges is intense," the activist said.

Helicopter gunships

Abu Omar also said the army was raiding the nearby Rukn al-Din neighbourhood, while "helicopters used machine guns to fire into the district's streets."

"This morning, regime forces dropped leaflets into the neighbourhood, telling people to evacuate. This is a way to get people to turn against the revolt."

He added that several parts of Damascus were suffering from food and fuel shortages, and that clashes were continuing in the districts of Tadamon, Al-Midan and Nahr Ayshe.

The Observatory's director Rami Abdel Rahman, meanwhile, said "the feared Fourth Brigade" commanded by President Assad's powerful younger brother Maher had launched an operation in Barzeh.

"Troops have stormed the northwestern Barzeh district of Damascus with tanks and armed personnel carriers," he said, noting snipers had been deployed on rooftops.

Regime forces also deployed in the outskirts of the Mazzeh district of the capital, he said, adding one person was killed there on Sunday and several were wounded.

The official Sana news agency also said government forces had "cleansed" the Qaboon neighbourhood of "terrorists," the regime's term for rebel fighters.

State television aired footage reportedly from Qaboon showing dead bodies and weapons, communications equipment and money it said was captured from rebels.

Meanwhile, fierce clashes engulfed the districts of Salaheddin and Sakhur in Aleppo, Syria's commercial hub in the north which has seen heavy fighting since Friday.

Two crossings held

In a video, Colonel Abdel Jabbar Mohammad Oqaidi, head of the Free Syrian Army's military council in Aleppo province, announced "the start of the operation to liberate Aleppo from the hands of Assad's gangs."

An anti-regime activist in the city said the army began an assault on the Salaheddin district at dawn, in a bid to reclaim it from rebel hands.

"Violent clashes have been taking place since the early morning," he told AFP.

On Syria's borders, rebels battled troops for control of crossing posts with Turkey, Iraq and Jordan.

Fighters were able to hold onto the Albu Kamal crossing to Iraq, after capturing it Thursday, but regime forces regained hold of the Rabiyah crossing one day after it was claimed by opposition fighters.

A Turkish diplomat told AFP that had also rebels taken over Al-Salama crossing early on Sunday.

On Thursday, the Free Syrian Army claimed the Bab al-Hawa crossing with Turkey, but by Saturday evening, an AFP photographer said the post was controlled by 150 foreign fighters who identified themselves as Islamists.

Fighting has intensified in Syria since a Wednesday bombing that killed national security chief General Hisham Ikhtiyar, Defence Minister General Daoud Rajha, Assad's brother-in-law Assef Shawkat and General Hassan Turkmani, head of the regime's crisis cell on the uprising.

With the violence escalating, more than 2 000 Syrians fled to Jordan early on Sunday, a prominent local charity in the neighbouring Arab state said, expecting a largescale influx.

Thousands of refugees have also crossed into neighbouring Lebanon and Turkey.

  • fred.fraser.12 - 2012-07-22 19:52

    Assad is attempting something that has NEVER been done before. Not even Caesar or Hitler succeeded, and they were FAR more powerful. The self-styled bloody surgeon of Syria will not succeed, nor should he.

      customdesign - 2012-07-23 08:42

      Hitler and Caesar did not have Helicopter gunships and a supply of weapons streaming in from Russia

  • AnthonyfromAfrica - 2012-07-22 20:12

    The assad family in full attack, but they are no match against over twenty million Syrians !! The suitcases, with cash plundered from the banks, are packed, and the escape routes, thoroughly worked out in detail!!

      rude.awakning - 2012-07-23 06:16

      no doubt the rebel activist Abu Frikadel personally give you this intel with a blueprint of the detailed escape plan! So why dont you wait for assad on the exit and hand him over to the US for the bounty? Plus as a bonus you get to keep all theca$h in the suit cases! You deserve it because you and fred worked hard for it! Pinky and the brainless!

      larry.lachman.54 - 2012-07-23 06:46

      Rude, your overworked imagination informs your opinions. Basically, you are an immature adult.

  • pucksonsibusiso.gumede - 2012-07-22 20:33

    The sooner this murderous regime is dislodged the better for the syrian people and its neighbours. Time is fast running out for the despotic Assad and his bootlickers, they should be executed in public by a firing squad!

  • fidel.mgoqi - 2012-07-22 21:04

    Those powers who are stoking the conflict by arming, training and funding elements within the so called FSA, while at the same time actively ordering them to abrogate ceasefire agreements, have to accept a degree of responsibility for the bloodshed as well.

      AnthonyfromAfrica - 2012-07-22 21:12

      No, I don't believe they should take part of that responsibility. This is a Syrian matter. For almost one year the opposition only consited of UNARMED CIVILIANS. I would just like to remind you, that in the first year, the oppostion not only did not ask for outside help, they actually INSISTED, they did not want ant foreign intervention. But the same happened as in Libya, the UNARMED opposition has no chance aggainst this murderous assad terrorist army, and than eventually did ask for help. about that same time thousands of BRAVE, no VERY BRAVE assad soldiers refused to kill any further of their 'own' and deserted him and fornmed the FSA. They, by any means, deserve the help from anyone in this world; THEY WANT THEIR COUNTRY BACK !!

      fred.fraser.12 - 2012-07-22 21:37

      A five percent degree, seeing as Assad has control of the Syrian state and military, and killed thousands of unarmed demonstrators for close on eleven months, WITH SNIPER-FIRE, detained, tortured and raped tens of thousands more. Fidel's immature binary world-view blinds him to the major part of what is really happening in Syria, and inverts the whole picture to appear as if the defenseless Syrian people who WANT TO VOTE have been the main aggressors. Russia is entirely right in arming Assad, and Russia and China are going to bring the democracy they themselves don't have to the Middle East. He's blinded himself, doesn't know he's doing this, but is doing it nonetheless. He defends it vociferously.

      rude.awakning - 2012-07-22 21:42

      deny, deny and deny that is all they can offer! Denial!

      fred.fraser.12 - 2012-07-22 21:46

      Fidel and Rude are of course talking of Russia, but they don't know it. They've effectively inverted the reality they see. They deny this to the hilt.

      AnthonyfromAfrica - 2012-07-22 22:03

      Patrick has arrived with his bucket of "thumbs up and thumbs down"

      rude.awakning - 2012-07-23 05:54

      fried, i am not a paid agent for the cause, so unlike you, i speak MY mind, and dont have to abide to instructions from 'handlers''!

      fred.fraser.12 - 2012-07-23 06:22

      Puppets, fake uprisings, imperialists, stooges, etc. It's all an unreal world to Fidel and Rude, when people do things THEY don't agree with.

  • keith.murphy.9638 - 2012-07-22 22:04

    Salute 4 th Brigade !!! Long Live Assad

      fred.fraser.12 - 2012-07-22 23:17

      The sociopath Keith supports the slaughter of Muslims by unelected dictators, because they want to vote. He even calls for their gassing with nerve gas.

      tommo.too - 2012-07-22 23:48

      When you moving to Damascus Keith? Lovely city. So friendly. Wonderful people with a wonderful government.

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