BEIRUT: Syrian rebels clashed with forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in southwest Damascus today, forcing the closure of the main highway to the southern town of Deraa, activists said.
The fighting came as United Nations humanitarian chief Valerie Amos visited Syria ahead of a UN aid conference which aims to raise $1.5 billion for millions of people made homeless, hungry and vulnerable by the 22-month-old conflict. The United Nations says 60,000 people have been killed in the conflict, which started with mainly peaceful protests but spiralled into a civil war in which the mainly Sunni rebels have challenged Assad’s control of all Syria’s main cities.
In Damascus, the two sides fought around a railway station in the southwestern district of Qadam. Footage posted on the Internet showed what activists said was a rebel attack on the station. One clip showed plain-clothed gunmen taking cover as gunfire could be heard. Another showed gunmen inspecting buildings by the track after what the narrator describes as the “liberation” of the station.
Another video showed black smoke billowing above concrete buildings, the result of what activists said was an air strike by Assad’s air force near the railway terminal. Syrian media did not comment on the fighting around Qadam and restrictions on independent media make it difficult to verify reports from activists. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based opposition group, said jets and army artillery also struck targets in rebel strongholds to the east and south of the capital after fierce clashes there.