Middle East

Government pushes ahead with campaign in Aleppo, Damascus

A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on October 31, 2013, shows the remains of a mortar after alleged shelling by rebel fighters on the Damascus mixed Christian-Druze suburb of Jaramana. (AFP PHOTO / SANA)

BEIRUT: Syrian troops pressed ahead with advances Thursday in the strategic area of Safira, the site of several arms factories near Aleppo, and the southern suburbs of Damascus, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“Fierce clashes are raging between the rebels and regime troops on the eastern side of Safira, amid a loyalist advance on the town, as troops take control of a new area,” the Observatory said.

Battles have raged in the Safira area near Aleppo for several months. The area is important because of the arms factories and due to its location on a key route linking Aleppo to central Syria.

Safira has been under rebel control for a year, but the factories have remained in army hands.

The army advance opens up the loyalists’ entry to Aleppo city, which has seen intense fighting since a massive rebel advance on July 20, 2012.

Some parts of the city are already controlled by the regime while others are in rebel hands.

Elsewhere, several mortar bombs launched by rebels hit Jaramana, a majority Christian-Druze suburb of Damascus, the Observatory said.

The attack killed two women and wounded several other people, the group added.

At least eight people were killed in an army rocket attack on the nearby suburb of Al-Hajar al-Aswad. The “bombardment ... which killed at least eight people, comes amid an escalation by the regime in southern Damascus and [rebel] areas in the countryside around it,” said Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel-Rahman.

The toll from Thursday’s violence is likely to rise, he added.

“The bombardment is part of an attempt by the regime to retake southern Damascus,” several of whose neighborhoods have for months been under a suffocating army siege, he added.

More broadly, “the army is trying to totally secure the capital. To date, it has claimed many times it has complete control over Damascus, but rebels are positioned in many areas in the capital’s southern belt,” he said.

The Observatory was unable to immediately verify whether the dead were fighters or civilians.

“The regime’s bombardment is arbitrary. Troops fire rockets at buildings, without knowing who is in them. Such attacks do not distinguish between civilians and combatants and therefore constitute a war crime,” he said.

Activists in southern Damascus also reported the attack, claiming “dozens” had been wounded.

“Many houses have been destroyed, and we have documented that [the bombing involved] more than 20 rockets and dozens of mortar rounds,” according to the Damascus Media Office, a network of anti-regime activists.

The deaths in Al-Hajar al-Aswad come a day after seven civilians, including five members of one family, were killed in similar shelling there.

In Aleppo, opposition media said that a rebel commander was facing the carrying out of a death sentence on accusations of being in league with the regime.

Media reports said that Hasan Jazra, commander of the Ghuraba al-Sham rebel group, was condemned by the Shariah Committee of rebel-held Aleppo, after being arrested by fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria.

Pro-opposition media have also accused Jazra of involvement in looting factories in the Aleppo industrial region of Sheikh Najjar and engaging in other acts detrimental to the opposition cause. Jazra also generated outrage when he appeared alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad during a tour of the Damascus suburb of Daraya in August.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 01, 2013, on page 8.




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