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MIDEAST > Clashes rage in Damascus, army deploys more troops

DAMASCUS

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Syria’s military deployed armored vehicles near central Damascus yesterday as troops battled rebels around the capital in what activists said could be a turning point in the 16-month uprising.

The fighting briefly closed the highway linking the capital with Damascus International Airport to the city’s south, an unprecedented development, said Mustafa Osso, an activist based in Syria. “It seems there is a new strategy to bring the fighting into the center of the capital,” Osso told the Associated Press, referring to the rebels who fight under the banner of the Free Syrian Army. “The capital used to be safe. This will trouble the regime.”

With battles raging between the army and rebels around Damascus for a second straight day, troops deployed armored vehicles near the historic neighborhood of Al-Midan. “This is the first time that armored and military transport vehicles are deployed in Al-Midan,” Rami Abdel Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Agence France-Presse in Beirut.

Morocco declares Syria ambassador persona non grata

“Before, the security forces were deployed to suppress protests. Now, we have army troops engaged in combat,” said the director of the Britain-based watchdog. An activist on the ground said the army was trying to overrun Al-Midan and described the fighting as a “turning point” in the revolt against al-Assad regime.

The battles are “the first of their kind. You can say there is a before and after in the Syrian revolution, and the turning point was July 15,” said the activist who identified himself as Abu Musab. Activists said the army and Free Syrian Army rebels had been locked in fierce clashes since July 15 in the southern Damascus neighborhood of Tadamon, Kfar Sousa in the west and Jobar in the east. They said the clashes are the worst in the capital since the start of the uprising in March 2011.

Meanwhile, Morocco declared Syria’s ambassador to Rabat persona non grata and asked him to leave the country, before Damascus said the Morocco envoy in its capital was unwelcome, in a tit-for-tat move.

July/17/2012

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