Middle East

Syria troops besiege town near Damascus

In this Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012 photo, a rebel fighter poses for a photographer while holding a Russian weapon acquired from the Syrian army by Free Syrian Army rebels in the northwestern city of Maraat al-Numan, Syria. (AP Photo/Mustafa Karali)

BEIRUT: Syrian troops besieged Daraya on Tuesday and rained shells on the town near Damascus, killing a woman and a child, in a fresh attempt to storm it, activists and a watchdog said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported that 29 people have died over the past 24 hours in clashes between Kurdish militiamen and rebels in the northern Syria town of Ras al-Ain, near the Turkey border.

In a a video released by activists in Daraya, the body of a lifeless baby can be seen being prepared for burial while the sound of muffled sobbing can be heard in the background. The footage could not be independently verified.

"We have been under constant rocket and artillery fire," Abu Kinan, an activist from Daraya southwest of Damascus, told AFP via Skype, adding that troops had rigged the area with checkpoints and arrested scores of people.

"There is no life in all of Daraya," he said, estimating that 90 percent of the residents had fled the town, considered a heartland of non-violent activism.

"The clashes are some of the heaviest we have seen. The Republican Guard came to reinforce the regime army," he said.

Rebel Free Syrian Army fighters are locked in fierce battles with regime troops on the edge of the town, he added.

At least two civilians, a woman and a child, were killed by army bombardments on Daraya, the Observatory said, in the latest of several attempts to storm the town over the past few days.

Considered a heartland of non-violent activism, Daraya was the site of the worst massacre in Syria's 20-month conflict, with more than 500 people killed there in late August, according to monitors.

In the northern province of Aleppo, rebels attacked the Sheikh Suleiman air defence battalion, less than two days after a military source said the insurgents took control of the sprawling Base 46 in the same province.

A rebel source told AFP in Turkey there were fierce clashes around the base and that fighter jets were flying at high altitude over the region and carrying out air raids.

Meanwhile the state news agency SANA reported that nine members of the same family, including two women and five children, were killed in Aleppo city when gunmen opened fire on them in their home in the southern rebel district of Marjeh.

The Observatory said casualties from clashes in Ras al-Ain included four Kurdish fighters, a local Kurdish official, and 24 members of the Islamist Al-Nusra Front and Gharba al-Sham rebel battalions.

The clashes erupted after a Kurdish demonstration, which demanded that all rebels not from the town leave, was met with refusal.

The Observatory also reported shelling attacks across the eastern outskirts of Damascus while state media said two mortars hit the ministry of information in the west of the capital, causing no casualties.

The Observatory, which relies on a network of activists, lawyers and medics, gave an initial toll of at least 61 people killed across Syria on Tuesday.

The dead include nine soldiers who died in the central town of Mahin, east of Homs, when a truck rigged with explosives was detonated near a weapons depot. At least 20 soldiers were wounded in the blast.





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