Heavy clashes erupt in Syrian capital

Updated 06 February 2013
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Heavy clashes erupt in Syrian capital

BEIRUT: Heavy fighting between rebels and President Bashar Assad’s forces broke out in parts of Damascus on Wednesday in some of the worst violence to hit the Syrian capital in weeks.
Activists said the clashes were focused in the city’s western districts, and residents in the heart of Damascus said the heavy thud of shelling emanating from the neighborhoods under attack was louder than in recent months, when government forces tried to dislodge rebels from the capital’s suburbs.
Damascus has not seen the scale of violence that has destroyed whole neighborhoods in Syria’s other urban centers like Aleppo and Homs. While the government has lost control of parts of those cities, it has kept a tight grip on the capital despite the rebels’ attempts to storm the city center from their enclaves in its outskirts.
Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights activist group, said Wednesday’s shelling of Jobar and Qaboun is part of a wider government offensive on the towns and villages on the capital’s doorstep that have been opposition strongholds since the beginning of the uprising against Assad in March 2011.
A government official said army troops are chasing rebels in the suburbs of Harasta, Sbeineh, and Jober. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.
Fighting also erupted in the central province of Homs, where a blast targeting a military complex early Wednesday killed an unknown number people, the SANA state news and activists said.
There were conflicting reports about the nature of the explosion in the city of Palmyra. The Observatory said a car bomb blew up near a compound that houses a military intelligence branch and a state security agency, killing several regime troops.
SANA said two suicide bombers detonated cars packed with explosives near a garage in a residential area of the city, killing a number of people, wounding dozens and causing significant material damage in the area.
After the blast, rebels clashed with government soldiers guarding the compound, according to the Observatory, which relies on reports from activists on the ground.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, although car bombs and suicide attacks targeting state institutions have been a hallmark of Islamic militants fighting alongside Syrian rebels aiming to topple Assad, whose family has ruled Syria for more than 40 years.
Homs has been an opposition stronghold since the Syrian uprising erupted nearly two years ago. The province and its capital of the same name were the scene of massive protests early in the revolt, which has since devolved into a civil war that has turned urban centers like Homs and the northern city of Aleppo into battlefields.
The United Nations say more than 60,000 people have been killed since conflict started in March 2011. At least 700,000 Syrians have fled their homes, seeking shelter in neighboring countries like Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, and more than one million people have been displaced within Syria during 22 months of fighting, according to aid agencies.


Israeli restraint urged after killing of Gaza teenager

Updated 9 min 45 sec ago
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Israeli restraint urged after killing of Gaza teenager

  • Nikolay Mladenov: “It is outrageous to shoot at children... #Children must be protected from #violence, not exposed to it.”
  • Avigdor Lieberman reiterated that he held leaders of Hamas, which rules Gaza, responsible for the violence and the death of the Palestinian teenager.
GAZA CITY: The death of a 15-year-old Palestinian boy during protests along Gaza’s border with Israel has sparked condemnation and international calls for restraint.
High-ranking Palestinian official Saeb Erekat called on the International Criminal Court to open a “serious judicial inquiry into the crimes committed against the Palestinian people.”
Rescue services and relatives said Mohammed Ayoub was killed by Israeli gunfire on Friday.
The Israeli army claimed that it was opening an investigation into the death of the young Palestinian, who was killed during demonstrations that have brought thousands of Palestinians to the border for four consecutive Fridays.
A spokesperson for the EU has called for a “full investigation” into the circumstances of the death.
“As we once again mourn the loss of lives, the EU calls on the Israel Defense Forces to refrain from using lethal force against unarmed protesters,” a statement said.
“As stated repeatedly, the priority now must be to avoid any further escalation of violence and loss of life,” the spokesperson said.
On Friday night, UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process Nikolay Mladenov wrote on Twitter: “It is outrageous to shoot at children... #Children must be protected from #violence, not exposed to it.”
The teenager’s father Ibrahim Ayoub said his son “was standing far from the soldiers and not armed.”
“Why are our children killed and Israeli children living a quiet life?“
Three other Palestinians were killed on Friday, bringing to 38 the death toll from Israeli gunfire since the start of “March of Return” protests on March 30.
US envoy for the Middle East Jason Greenblatt called for moderation.
“As we mourn the tragic loss of a young life, we must all commit ourselves to avoid further suffering by responses to this death,” he said.
Israeli forces have responded to demonstrations along its border by firing live ammunition, injuring hundreds in addition to the deaths.
But Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman reiterated that he held leaders of Hamas, which rules Gaza, responsible for the violence and the death of the Palestinian teenager.
“Those cowardly leaders who are hiding behind women and children and send them forward as a human shield, so that they can continue to dig tunnels and carry out terrorist actions against the state of Israel,” he wrote on Twitter.
“I will again tell the habitants of Gaza... Do not approach the fence.”
On Sunday, the Israeli military said it had arrested 15 Hamas operatives in a West Bank raid on Saturday night.
The military claimed those captured are suspected of collaborating with a well-known Hamas operative from Gaza to spread its activities to the West Bank.
Meanwhile, more than 100 members of the 700-seat Palestinian National Council (PNC) want to delay a rare session of the Palestinians’ top decision-making body, saying on Sunday they were concerned some factions would be shut out.
The PNC is due to convene in Ramallah on April 30 to discuss US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a policy change that has outraged the Palestinians.
In a letter obtained by Reuters to PNC speaker Saleem Al-Zanoun, 109 legislators, including independents and delegates from Hamas and the mainstream Fatah faction, urged the session’s postponement.
They said that going ahead with the meeting, with only narrow factional representation due to Israeli travel restrictions on delegates from Gaza and outside the Palestinian territories, would deepen internal divisions.
“In order to spare our Palestinian cause imminent dangers and out of our eagerness to achieve unity and end splits and division, we urge you to delay the PNC session,” said the letter.
There was no immediate word from Al-Zanoun whether he would agree to the request, which followed word from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine on Thursday that it would boycott the session because it wanted more factions to attend.
In Ramallah, Mohammad Sbeih, the PNC’s secretary, declined to comment directly on the letter but told Reuters there will no delays.