AMMAN: Troops and tanks swept into a restive town near Damascus today in an assault aimed at crushing opposition to President Bashar al-Assad, whose struggle for survival has dragged Syria into an increasingly bloody war.
Artillery and helicopters attacked the Sunni Muslim town of Daraya for 24 hours, killing 15 people and wounding 150, before soldiers moved in and raided houses, opposition sources said.
There was little resistance as Assad’s forces pushed towards the centre of Daraya, on the southwest edge of Damascus. Armed rebels had apparently already left, activists in Damascus said. “They are using mortar bombs to clear each sector. Then they enter it, while moving towards the centre,” said Abu Zeid, an activist speaking over the phone from an area near Daraya.
Other activists said the army was also bombarding parts of the town from Qasioun, a mountain overlooking Damascus, and from a Republican Guard barracks near a hilltop presidential palace.
“For about an hour we heard explosions and gunfire. It is not as bad as yesterday yet but tensions are really high,” opposition activist Samir al-Shami told Reuters from Damascus. Assad’s forces also raided the southeastern Kafr Souseh area early today and detained people, another activist said.
The military had driven insurgents from most of the areas they seized in the capital after a bomb killed four top security officials on July 18, but rebels have crept back, regrouping without taking on the army in pitched battles.
Punitive military raids and summary killings appear to be one response as Assad strives to keep control of Damascus and the northern commercial hub of Aleppo, opposition sources say.
YouTube footage showed a funeral in Daraya of a mother and five children from the al-Sheikh family. Activists said the victims were killed by shellfire in the town after fleeing this week’s military offensive on the Damascus suburb of Mouadamiya.
The bodies were wrapped in white shrouds, the children’s faces exposed. More than 60 were killed across Syria today, according to the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The toll included 48 civilians. Meanwhile, Reuters reported from Moscow said that the son of a late Chechen rebel warlord has been killed in Syria by government forces battling a rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad.Rustam Gelayev was killed in the shelling of a mosque in Aleppo by forces loyal to Assad earlier this month, according to the website chechenews.com.
Babacar Gaye, the head of UN monitors sent to observe an abortive ceasefire, was expected to leave Damascus today. The mission’s mandate has expired and was not renewed.
25,000 dead since last March
BEIRUT: At least 24,495 people have been killed in violence in Syria since the outbreak of an anti-regime revolt in March last year turned into a bloody conflict, a Britain-based watchdog said. “A total of 17,281 civilians have been killed in Syria in the past 17 months, including those who took up arms to join the rebellion,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. “Meanwhile, 6,163 soldiers have been killed, as well as 1,051 defectors who joined the insurgency,” Abdel Rahman added.