BEIRUT: Five members of Syria’s security forces were killed by a car bomb in eastern Damascus Monday, and the blast was followed by heavy clashes between rebels and forces loyal to President Bashar Assad, an activist group said.
The force of the explosion in the Qaboun neighborhood shook the Syrian capital at around 9 p.m., residents said.
State television and the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has monitored the violence in Syria since the uprising against Assad erupted nearly two years ago, said the blast was caused by a car bomb.
The Observatory said rebels were clashing with security forces and that mortar shells had been fired in the area.
Monday’s blast followed a series of car bombs in the capital Thursday, the biggest of which killed at least 60 people in the Mazraa district of Damascus, according to activists.
Earlier in the day, regime warplanes bombarded the southwestern and eastern outskirts of the capital in a protracted bid to dislodge rebels from their rear bases, killing 10 civilians including two children, the Observatory said.
Inside the capital, troops also shelled rebel strongholds in the east and south, killing two civilians including a young girl, and another girl was killed in mortar fire in clashes that broke out near the Yarmouk area.
In the northern province of Aleppo, at least 30 Syrian troops and 23 rebels were killed over the past 24 hours in fierce clashes for control of a police academy, the Observatory said Monday.
The Observatory also reported that rebels shot down a regime helicopter near a military base elsewhere in the north of the province as insurgents pressed on with attacks on the police academy in the west.
At least 53 combatants – 23 rebels including a battalion commander and 30 Syrian troops – were killed over the past 24 hours in the fighting outside the town of Khan Assal, the opposition-aligned Observatory said.
It said rebels took control of a building where troops were entrenched as warplanes tried to repel them and “took hostage dozens of pro-regime militants.”
But the pro-regime Al-Watan newspaper said Monday that “members of the police academy rebuffed the intensive attacks of armed men for the second consecutive day, inflicting heavy losses on them with artillery.”
The police academy is one of the last regime bastions in the west of Aleppo province.
The chopper was shot down near Mennegh military airport, which rebels have been trying to stop for months, “and burst into flames after it was hit,” the Observatory said.
A local resident confirmed to AFP that “the helicopter was shot down while trying to land” at the strategic air base, located north of Aleppo.
A video posted online by activists showed a missile being fired, a trail of white smoke and the aircraft going up in flames.
Voices in the background shouted, “God is great!” as a man raised both hands in celebration.
The video appeared to be authentic and corresponded to other AP reporting.
The regime denied firing Scud missiles at armed rebels, including in Aleppo where the Observatory says 58 people were killed, a Russian broadcaster quoted a Syrian minister as saying Monday.
The regime “denies the use by Syrian forces of Scud missiles in battles against the armed opposition,” Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi said in an interview with Arabic-language Russia Today.
Syria’s opposition and activists have accused the regime army of firing Scuds at Aleppo city from military base 155 near Damascus Friday.
The Observatory said at least 58 people, among them 36 children, were killed when the surface-to-surface missiles struck the Tariq al-Bab district.
The strikes triggered severe condemnation from Washington which described the incident as “the latest demonstrations of the Syrian regime’s ruthlessness and its lack of compassion for the Syrian people it claims to represent.”
Elswhere, in the northwestern province of Idlib at least eight civilians were killed in air raids on villages in Jabal Zawiyeh and shelling on the rebel-held village of Khirbet al-Joz on the Turkish border.
Fighter jets also raided towns in the southern province of Deraa, cradle of the uprising against Assad that broke out in March 2011 and has left 70,000 dead, according to the United Nations.
In the mainly Kurdish province of Hassakeh, the jihadist Nusra Front and other rebels seized Tal Hamis after several days of heavy fighting and regime shelling that forced most of the town’s residents to flee, the Observatory said.