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Clashes rock Damascus; half of refugees lack medical care

BEIRUT: Syrian troops and rebels clashed again yesterday in the capital Damascus, a day after what activists described as the heaviest fighting in months in President Bashar Assad’s seat of power.
The clashes were inching closer to the heart of the city, but still were focused in outlying neighborhoods such as Qaboun, Jobar and Zamalka in the northeast and the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk in the south, according to the activist groups Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Authorities.
The Observatory, based in Britain, said five people, three of them women, were killed in Yarmouk overnight. Damascus residents said yesterday was quieter, but they were still hearing sporadic explosions.
State-run television said rebels fired two mortar rounds at a bus station in the Qaboun neighborhood of Damascus, killing six people including three children and a woman. The TV, quoting an unnamed Interior Ministry official, said others were wounded in the attack.
The Observatory reported clashes and shelling between troops and rebels near Qaboun, saying several shells hit the neighborhood. It said the fighting occurred near the highway that links Damascus with the central city of Homs, Syria’s third-largest.
In other areas, the Observatory reported heavy clashes between troops and rebels near the northern town of Al-Safira, where there have been heavy clashes over the past weeks.
Al-Safira, south of the northern city of Aleppo, is home to military production facilities. The rebels have failed to advance in the area after weeks of intense clashes. The LCC and Observatory reported violence elsewhere in Syrian including the suburbs of the capital, the eastern region of Deir El-Zour and the southern region of Daraa, where the uprising against Assad began 22 months ago.
Syria’s opposition chief, who recently offered a dialogue with the government, demanded that the regime release all female political prisoners or he would scrap his offer.
Mouaz Al-Khatib of the Syrian National Alliance said: “The regime has until Sunday to begin releasing detainees, especially women. This should be the introduction of prisoners’ release,” Al-Khatib said. “I warn anyone not to harm any of our women.”
More than half of the estimated 300,000 Syrian refugees who have fled to Lebanon are not receiving the medical treatment they need because of high costs, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said yesterday.
In a report entitled “Misery beyond the war zone,” MSF gave the results of a survey carried out in the southern city of Sidon, the eastern Bekaa Valley and the northern city of Tripoli, where its teams are providing free medical care.
Syrian refugees, as well as Palestinian refugees and Lebanese nationals fleeing the embattled country, have “profound humanitarian needs that are not being met” said MSF, whose report covered registration issues and access to medical care and lodging.
More than 50 percent of those interviewed, whether officially registered as refugees or not, were housed in substandard structures with little to no protection from the elements and the rest were struggling to pay rent after losing their livelihoods.
And more than half could not afford treatment for chronic diseases, and nearly one-third had to suspend treatment because of high costs. “For those who are and are not registered alike, the costs attached to essential primary health care, ante-natal care and institutional deliveries are prohibitive,” it said.
The MSF said that nearly two-thirds of unregistered refugees and Lebanese returnees received no assistance whatsoever from any NGO and emphasized that registration itself was difficult.
“Forty-one percent of the interviewees said they were not registered, mainly because they lacked information on how and where to register or the registration points were too far away. “Others worried that they did not have proper legal papers and would be therefore sent back to Syria,” it said.

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