Syrian government forces bombard Damascus, aim to retake Homs
Syrian troops shelled a suburb of Damascus Tuesday, killing at least 11 people including women and children, as government forces forged ahead with offensives against rebel-held areas around the country, activists said.
With the government push against the besieged rebel-held central city of Homs in its fourth day, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged both sides to avoid harming civilians.
Near Damascus, more than 60 mortar bombs struck the area of Kfar Batna for over four hours, said activist Mohammad Saeed, who spoke via Skype from the nearby suburb of Douma. The explosions killed at least 11 people.
“O Lord, your mercy, O Lord,” a man wept as he carried a corpse in a child-sized shroud into a hospital, according to an amateur video posted of the event. The sobbing man, his arm bandaged and his shirt smeared with blood, placed the bundle next to other shrouded corpses.
The shelling of Kfar Batna appeared to be part of a concerted push against contested and rebel-held areas around Damascus, as President Bashar Assad’s regime tries to shore up its seat of power. In recent months, government troops have captured several towns near the capital.
The state news agency said Syrian troops restored “security and stability” to much of Jobar, a key district near Kfar Batna on the edge of Damascus, after weeks of fighting.
The opposition-aligned Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the dead in Tuesday’s shelling in Kfar Batna included two women and a child.
In central Syria, government forces continued their four-day campaign to try to retake rebel-held parts of Homs, concentrating on the neighborhoods of Bab Houd and Khaldieh.
The state news agency said that troops advanced in Bab Houd, capturing several buildings and killing and wounding many “terrorists,” the government’s term for rebels. The director of the British-based Observatory, Rami Abdel-Rahman, said government forces were also shelling the Khaldieh section near the city’s ancient quarter and that gunbattles were taking place.
He said the fighters of the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah Party were involved in the clashes.
Rebels have been holed up in Homs for over a year now, and the fight to retake the city may prove a tough challenge for the regime, Abdel-Rahman said.
“They [the rebels] have mined the area. They are ready for this,” he said.
Some 2,500 civilians remain in Homs, Ban said.
He called on both sides to allow them to leave “without fear of persecution” as government forces try to storm the city. In a statement issued by Ban’s office Tuesday, he called “on the warring sides to do their utmost to avoid civilian casualties and to allow humanitarian access.”
The Observatory said that in the northern province of Aleppo, rebels destroyed an army vehicle using a Russian-made Konkurs anti-tank missile that they recently received from Gulf Arab states.
Abdel-Rahman said the rebels appeared to have received large numbers of the missiles in the past few days.
Also Tuesday, the Al-Qaeda branch called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant claimed responsibility for a suicide attack that it said targeted a center run by pro-government militiamen in the central town of Sabboura.
The state news agency said the attack targeted a cultural center, and three people were killed.