x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

56 killed as security forces step up attacks on towns near Damascus

Syrian government forces intensified an assault on rebel fighters in towns encircling Damascus yesterday in an effort to stamp out an insurgency that was pushing towards the capital, opposition activists said.

Rebels fighters fire on Syrian government forces in the Rastan area of Homs province on Tuesday.
Rebels fighters fire on Syrian government forces in the Rastan area of Homs province on Tuesday.

BEIRUT // Syrian government forces intensified an assault on rebel fighters in towns encircling Damascus yesterday in an effort to stamp out an insurgency that was pushing towards the capital, opposition activists said.

The fighting moved to Wadi Barada, north-west of Damascus, close to the border with Lebanon. Twenty-nine people were killed there yesterday, while 56 people were killed throughout the country, according to opposition activists. Syria's state news agency, Sana, reported five soldiers were killed in the clashes yesterday.

The government said in December 2,000 members of the security services had been killed since March. None of the figures could be independently verified.

The news agency also reported yesterday that government troops killed 11 members of an "armed terrorist group" that had attacked a vehicle transporting food supplies to a military unit outside Deraa.

The Syrian army now appears to be in control of neighbourhoods to the east of Damascus that were held by rebel forces, mostly defected soldiers, late last week.

Yesterday, shelling and machine gunfire were heard in areas just outside the capital including Wadi Barada.

Army snipers and tanks were reported in the suburb of Misraba, which has been cut off from electricity and water for a week, while there was also fighting between the rebel Free Syrian Army and government troops in the cities of Idlib and Deraa, according to activists.

Government troops consolidated their control on the town of Rankous north of Damascus, which this week was the scene of fierce fighting between them and the rebel army.

Last month the UN estimated more than 5,400 people have been killed since the uprising against the Al Assad regime began 11 months ago.

Efforts to solve the crisis are now focusing on the UN. But the deputy head of the Arab League, Ahmed bin Helli, said yesterday the aim was to find an Arab solution.

"[The League is] still committed ... to solving this crisis in the Arab framework, away from any outside intervention," he said during a visit to Baghdad.

Meanwhile, the secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Abdullatif Al Zayani, met with the president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, in Brussels yesterday, to discuss issues including the Arab bloc's efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis.

The meeting followed talks on Monday between Mr Al Zayani and Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Kuwaiti state news agency reported.

zconstantine@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by the Associated Press and Reuters