BEIRUT: Government forces tightened a seven-day siege of the Qudsaya neighborhood, in the northwest suburbs of the Damascus countryside Friday, the latest suburb to see delicate cease-fire deals break down.
Opposition activists said the truce, which was brokered last month and saw the regime ease a blockade on food and medical supplies in return for a rebel handover of weapons, collapsed last week when rebels shot and killed a government officer.
Activists told The Daily Star rebels shot and killed the officer in his car after he had an accident last Friday. When a group of people surrounded the vehicle to investigate, the officer reportedly fired shots into the air. Rebels then responded, firing into the car and killing him.
“The FSA came and shot at the car, they thought he shot at the people,” a Free Syrian Army spokesman said via Skype. In response, the regime reinstated the siege, blockading the city “until those responsible for the killing handed themselves in,” the spokesman said.
“They didn’t know that he was an officer. Then Qudsaya was closed – no one gets out and not one goes in.”
The incident has highlighted the precarious nature of the truces, which the government is promoting as efforts toward “national reconciliation” ahead of Geneva peace talks, but which opposition rebels condemn as a “starve or surrender” campaign.
In Yabroud, on the Lebanese border, government airstrikes continued to pound the city, after rebels, including Islamists with the Nusra Front, rejected such an agreement.
Regime media say government troops are preparing a major assault on the city, the latest in a campaign by government forces, backed by Hezbollah, to retake rebel-held territory in the Qalamoun region bordering Lebanon and connecting the capital Damascus to the central city of Homs and the coastal regions.
The government newspaper Al-Watan said Thursday troops were poised for an assault, having seized control of two strategic hill sites nearby which had been the target of heavy air raids since early February.
Opposition activists, meanwhile, say a large number of government troops and Hezbollah militants have been killed in clashes in the region.
In the city of Hama, the opposition-aligned Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported heavy clashes between rebels and regime forces.
Free Syrian Army and Islamist battalions claimed to have repelled a government advance on the village of Morek, while regime forces responded with sniper fire. The Observatory said both sides suffered heavy losses.
In the south of the country, in Deraa province, government helicopters dropped explosive barrel bombs on the area of Tariq al-Sad neighborhood, but there was no immediate report on casualties.
Government rockets were fired on the rebel-held neighborhood of Douma, in the Damascus province, while warplanes struck the Tariq al-Bab district in the northern second city of Aleppo.
The Local Coordination Committees, a network of activists on the ground in Syria gave an early death toll of 39 Friday, including five children and two women. Deaths tolls routinely surpass 100 people daily in Syria.