May 23, 2013
Syrian forces bombard Damascus
Syrian forces bombarded parts of Damascus with helicopter gunships, witnesses said, clawing back territory from the rebels a week after the fighters launched what they called a final battle for the capital.
In a further escalation of a conflict that emboldened opponents of President Bashar al-Assad have turned into all-out civil war, fighting raged around the intelligence headquarters in the biggest city Aleppo and in Deir al-Zor in the east.
Syrian forces regained control of one of two border crossings seized by rebels on the frontier with Iraq, Iraqi officials said, but rebels said they had captured a third border crossing with Turkey, Bab al-Salam north of Aleppo.
"Seizing the border crossings does not have strategic importance but it has a psychological impact because it demoralizes Assad's force," a senior Syrian army defector in Turkey, Staff Brigadier Faiz Amr, told Reuters by phone.
"It's a show of progress for the revolutionaries, despite the superior firepower of Assad's troops."
The bombardments in Damascus and Deir al-Zor were some of the fiercest yet and showed Assad's determination to avenge a bomb on Wednesday that killed four members of his high command.
It was the gravest blow in a 16-month-old uprising that has turned into an armed revolt against four decades of Assad rule.
Rebels were driven from Mezzeh, the diplomatic district of Damascus, residents and opposition activists said, and more than 1,000 government troops and allied militiamen, backed by armored vehicles, tanks and bulldozers entered the area.
Three people were killed and fifty others, mostly civilians, were wounded in the early morning bombardment, said Thabet, a Mezzeh resident. "The district is besieged and the wounded are without medical care," he said.
"I saw men stripped to their underwear. Three buses took detainees from al-Farouk, including women and whole families. Several houses have been set on fire."
The neighborhood of Barzeh, one of three northern areas hit by helicopter fire, was also under siege, by troops from the elite fourth division.
The division is run by Assad's younger brother, Maher al-Assad, 41, who is widely seen as the muscle maintaining the Assad family's Alawite minority rule.
His role has become more crucial since Assad's defense and intelligence ministers, a top general and his powerful brother-in-law were killed by the bomb on Wednesday, part of a "Damascus volcano" by rebels seeking to turn the tables in a revolt inspired by Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt.
Assad has not spoken in public since the bombing. Diplomats and opposition sources said government forces were focusing on strategic centers, with one Western diplomat comparing Assad to a doctor "abandoning the patient's limbs to save the organs".