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Middle East

Clashes in Damascus as Red Cross aims for truce

DAMASCUS: Deadly clashes rocked a district of Damascus on Monday as international efforts picked up pace to initiate a daily humanitarian truce and for monitors to be deployed across violence-swept Syria.

Damascus ally Russia added its voice to calls for a daily truce so that aid can be delivered to affected cities, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov joining the visiting Red Cross chief in demanding both sides do so immediately.
 
President Bashar al-Assad's security forces, meanwhile, launched attacks in several regions, opposition activists said.
 
And pre-dawn fighting in a heavily guarded area of Damascus, the capital's fiercest since a revolt against Assad's regime erupted a year ago, came as residents still reeled from deadly weekend bombings.
 
At least three rebels and a member of the security forces were killed in the upscale western neighbourhood of Mazzeh, state television and monitors reported.
 
"Three terrorists were killed and a fourth was arrested in the fighting between security forces and an armed terrorist gang sheltered in a house of a residential district," the television channel said.
 
Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said four rebels were killed. The fighters fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the home of a top army officer as they brought the conflict to the capital, he said.
 
Mourtada Rasheed, an activist in Damascus, said blasts and heavy shooting could be heard in Mazzeh and two other districts, Qaboon and Arbeen.
 
A Qaboon resident who did not wish to be identified said "we woke up at 3:00 am (0100 GMT) to the sound of heavy machinegun fire and rocket-propelled grenades."
 
In Mazzeh, which is overlooked by Assad's clifftop presidential palace and home to several embassies, terrified locals were woken by the rattle of gunfire. "We were very scared," one told AFP.
 
International Committee of the Red Cross chief Jakob Kellenberger met Lavrov, whose country is an ally of Damascus that can exert influence on the regime.
 
"The two parties call for the Syrian government and armed groups to immediately agree to a daily humanitarian truce to allow the ICRC access to the wounded and to civilians who need to be evacuated," a Moscow foreign ministry statement said.
 
Moscow "underscored the need to allow the ICRC access to all detained persons in Syria following the protests" against Assad's regime, it said.
 
An ICRC spokeswoman in Russia said the meeting was a part of Kellenberger's broader efforts to prompt world powers to secure commitments from the regime and rebels to lay down their arms for a few hours each day.
 
"The ICRC hopes to see concrete results of such meetings on the ground in the coming days and weeks," Victoria Zotikova told AFP.
 
A mission sent by UN-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan arrived in Damascus for talks on a monitoring operation to end the conflict that monitors say has cost more than 9,100 lives since last March.
 
"There are five people with expertise in political, peacekeeping and mediation," Annan spokesman Ahmad Fawzi told AFP, declining to disclose their precise plans or whereabouts.
 
"They will be staying for as long as they are making progress on reaching agreement on practical steps to implement Mr Annan's proposals," he added.
 
France on Monday proposed a UN Security Council statement giving strong backing to Annan's efforts. "The aim now is to find common ground and send a strong message to the Damascus regime," a diplomat in New York said.
 
Paris "hopes for a vote tomorrow," the French ambassador to the United Nations, Gerard Araud, told reporters.
 
Separately, technical experts from the UN and Organisation of Islamic Cooperation are taking part in a Syrian government-led mission to assess the impact of the deadly crackdown.
 
The seven-to-10-day mission to 15 cities, on the first such assignment in Syria since the violence started, was launched in the flashpoint province of Homs on Sunday.
 
Monday's clashes in the capital came after twin car bombs ripped through two neighbourhoods of Damascus on Saturday, killing 27 people, according to the interior ministry.
 
An Observatory statement said fresh fighting broke out between rebels and security forces in the Qaboon and Barzeh areas of Damascus.
 
Troops backed by dozens of tanks also raided districts of Deir Ezzor city in eastern Syria, the Observatory said, a day after at least 25 army deserters were killed in seizing its Hamidiyeh district.
 
Five soldiers, including two officers, were also killed, it said.
 
In central Syria, soldiers bombarded the Bab Sbaa, Khalidiyeh and Karm al-Shami districts of Homs, which has been relentlessly pounded since early February, the monitoring group said.
 
Troops in the northwestern province of Idlib attacked Abdita, home village of defector Colonel Riyadh Asaad, head of the Turkey-based rebel Free Syrian Army, local activist Nurredin al-Abdo told AFP.
 
Security forces killed at least nine civilians on Monday -- including a young girl -- in Idlib, Homs and the southern province of Daraa, while a captain who deserted was killed in the central town of Rastan, the Observatory said.

 

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