May 23, 2013
Syrian government forces go on attack on first day of year
Government war planes bombed opposition-held areas of Syria and President Bashar al-Assad's forces and rebels fought on the outskirts of the capital Damascus on New Year's Day today.
The air force pounded Damascus's eastern suburbs today and rebel-held areas of Aleppo, the second city and commercial capital, as well as several rural towns and villages, opposition activists said.
Opposition video posted on the Internet showed plumes of grey smoke rising in Irbin, in the east of Damascus.
Residents of the capital began the new year to the boom of artillery hitting southern and eastern outskirts, which form a rebel-held arc around the capital. The heart of the city is still firmly under government control.
In the city centre, soldiers manning checkpoints fired celebratory gunfire at midnight although the streets were largely deserted.
"How can they celebrate? There is no 'Happy New Year'," Moaz al-Shami, an opposition activist who lives in central Mezzeh district, said over Skype.
He said rebel fighters attacked one checkpoint in Berzeh district in the morning. Opposition groups said mortar bombs hit the southwest suburb of Daraya, which the army attacked on Monday to retake it from rebels.
An estimated 45,000 people have been killed in the conflict, which started in early 2011 with peaceful protests demanding democratic reforms but turned into an armed uprising after months of attacks on protesters by security forces.
A resident of the central city of Homs said artillery shelling had smacked into its Old City on Tuesday.
Homs lies on the north-south highway and parts of the ancient city have been leveled during months of clashes. Government forces ousted rebels from Homs early last year but militants have slowly crept back in.
"The Old City is under siege. There is shelling from all sides," said the resident, who asked to remain anonymous.