Fight at Damascus’ gates

Fight at Damascus’ gates

Fight at Damascus’ gates

Syrian soldiers who defected to join the Free Syrian Army are seen among demonstrators during a protest against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in Idlib. REUTERS photo

Syrian government forces reasserted control of Damascus suburbs yesterday after beating back rebels at the capital’s gates as diplomatic pressure mounted on President Bashar al-Assad at the United Nations.

Western and Arab diplomats pushed for a U.N. Security Council motion which would call for al-Assad to quit to defuse a 10-month-old uprising against his family’s rule. On the battlefront, activists in eastern districts of Damascus said troops fired in the air as they advanced beyond areas from which the defector Free Syrian Army withdrew, capping three days of fighting that activists said killed at least 100 people in Damascus suburbs and in raids around the central city of Homs.

Tanks also swarmed into the area, Reuters reported. Others said residents of some eastern districts were allowed to flee their neighborhoods in vehicles by advancing troops, but that security forces in the district of Irbin rounded up young men at gunpoint and detained them. Activists said 11 were killed and dozens were wounded in clashes in Homs and Damascus’ suburbs, according to Anatolian news agency. While it is said that the free army is preparing for a battle with al-Assad forces in Damascus, some sources connected to the army said the president changed his military chief in order to avert a possible coup.

In the Damascus battles, an activist said armed defectors mounted scattered attacks on government troops who advanced through the district of Saqba, held by rebels just days earlier. Their forays near the capital follow a negotiated victory in Zabadani close to Lebanon after government forces pulled back under a cease-fire.

Some rebel commanders have spoken of creating “liberated” territories to force diplomatic action. Also yesterday, army defectors gained full control of the central town of Rastan after days of intense clashes.