x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Syrian regime intensifies operations near Damascus

Southern Damascus, in particular Daraya, about five kilometres from the heart of the capital, was the scene of heavy fighting all day while the internet was cut off for the second day.

DAMASCUS // The southern area of Damascus came under attack from the air yesterday as the regime cut internet services and most telephone lines for a second day.

Bashar Al Assad's forces have intensified their attacks around the city to try to pin back rebels and impose control over the capital.

Damascus was largely quiet but its suburbs were a different story.

Southern Damascus, in particular Daraya, about five kilometres from the heart of the capital, was the scene of heavy fighting all day.

Shortly after 5am the first shells were fired into the area, a largely middle-class district once home to 150,000 people, mainly Sunni Muslims but also Christians. Many residents have long since fled.

The first air strike of the day came at 8.30am when a military jet dropped a pair of bombs that raised a huge cloud of grey smoke.

Four more sets of air strikes, each involving two or three bombing runs, took place later in the day.

Smoke hung over the south and east of the capital from new fires, adding to those from Thursday that had not been put out.

Mr Al Assad's regime and opposition activists blamed each other for the internet blackout, which is the first to hit the whole country since Syria's 20-month-old uprising began.

Syrian authorities have previously cut internet and telephones in areas ahead of military operations. Yesterday, some land lines were working sporadically. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in Britain, said the main road to Damascus' airport reopened yesterday afternoon.

But for the second straight day international flights were not allowed to land at the airport.

There were intense clashes after midnight in villages and towns near the facility but the area was calm by the late morning, the group said.

It said rebels were able to destroy several army vehicles near the airport.

Yesterday was the fifth consecutive day the southern suburbs of Damascus have been bombed by jets while Daraya has been the scene of fighting now for weeks.

That contrasts with a previous assault in August, when it took government four days to fight its way into the town, something they did without the support of jets.

More than 670 people, mainly civilians, were killed in that attack, according to local activists.

Also yesterday, 17 Sunni men from Tripoli were killed in the Syrian border town of Tal Kalakh, a Lebanese security source and a Muslim leader said.



With additional reporting from Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Press