BEIRUT: Syrian rebels said Monday they had fired mortar bombs at the presidential palace, Damascus International Airport and security buildings to mark the second anniversary of the uprising against President Bashar Assad.
A statement posted on an opposition Facebook page said rebel groups had fired “a number of 120mm heavy caliber mortar bombs ... in a joint operation coordinated with battalions operating in Damascus.”
“The operation comes in conjunction with the second anniversary of the start of our revolution, which is a revolution of freedom and dignity against the despotic regime of the criminal Bashar Assad,” it said.
Reuters could not independently confirm reports due to reporting restrictions on journalists in Syria.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has a network of activists across the country, said several rockets fell in districts near the presidential palace. But it said it could not confirm if the building was actually hit, nor whether there were any casualties.
Rebels who are fighting to end four decades of Assad family rule have overrun suburbs on the outskirts of the capital but are unable to break into the center of the city as the army has fortified positions. They have hit the airport and the palace before, but Assad is no longer believed to be living there.
The Observatory reported “violent clashes” between rebel forces and regime troops in the eastern Damascus district of Jubar, “accompanied by heavy shelling of the neighborhood and reported losses on both sides.”
The activist group also reported shelling of the city’s southern Maadaniya district and sniper fire and casualties in northern Barzeh.
The predominantly Palestinian neighborhood of Yarmouk in the south of the city also came under mortar fire throughout the day, the Britain-based Observatory said.
Syria’s state news agency SANA reported that “terrorists” had fired five mortar bombs at areas in the capital close to the presidential palace, adding that the resulting fire caused no injuries.
As rebels have pushed toward the capital, they have sporadically fired in the direction of the presidential palace area in the northwest of the city.
Elsewhere in the capital, the Observatory said regime forces carried out “a campaign of arrests of a number of students from the University City student housing in the Mezzeh district” of western Damascus.
Observatory director Rami Abdel-Rahman, speaking to AFP by telephone, said “intelligence forces this morning entered University City,” which is home to Damascus University students from different areas.
The group said 17 people were killed in the area around the capital during shelling of towns including Irbin, Douma and Kfar Batna.
Regime forces have launched a broad campaign in the region around the capital in recent months, in a bid to unseat rebels from rear bases they are using to attack Damascus.
Seven civilians were also killed in air raids on the town of Al-Qusair in Homs province, while warplanes carried out raids in the Bab Amr area of the city.
In central Hama province, opposition fighters gained control of the Tel Hamamiyat checkpoint on the eastern outskirts of town of Kernaz, “following violent clashes that began at around midnight Sunday,” the Observatory said. “A number of military vehicles were damaged, members of the regime forces were killed and weapons and ammunition were captured.”
Regime forces responded with artillery fire targeting the local towns of Kernaz and Latamneh, and air raids on the town of Kafar Zeita.
Regime warplanes also bombed the city of Raqqa, which fell to the rebels earlier this month, the Observatory said.
The group said at least 71 people were killed across the country Monday, including 36 civilians, 10 rebel fighters and 25 regime troops.