Forces battle to retake Damascus suburbs
At least 66 people were killed in fighting between Syrian soldiers and rebels over control of Damascus suburbs and other parts of the country yesterday, activists said, a day after the Arab League suspended its monitoring mission in Syria because of mounting violence.
The London-based rights group said 26 soldiers, five other members of the security forces, nine army deserters were also among those killed as the regime cracked down on protesters and rebels.
Around 2,000 soldiers in buses and armoured personnel carriers, along with at least 50 tanks and armoured vehicles, moved at dawn into the Ghouta area on the eastern edge of Damascus to reinforce an offensive in the suburbs of Saqba, Hammouriya and Kfar Batna, activists said.
The army pushed into the heart of Kfar Batna and four tanks were in its central square, they said, in a move to flush out rebels who had taken over districts just a few kilometres from President Bashar al-Assad's centre of power.
"It's urban war. There are bodies in the street," said one activist, speaking from Kfar Batna. Activists said 14 civilians and five insurgents from the rebel Free Syrian Army were killed there and in other suburbs.
The Arab League suspended the work of its monitors on Saturday after calling on Assad to step down and make way for a government of national unity. It said Arab foreign ministers would discuss the Syrian crisis on February 5.
Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby left for New York yesterday where he will brief representatives of the UN Security Council on Tuesday to seek support for an Arab peace plan that calls on Assad to step aside after 10 months of protests.
Speaking shortly before he left Cairo for New York, Elaraby said he hoped to overcome resistance from China and Russia over endorsing the Arab proposals.
A Syrian government official was quoted by state media as saying Syria was surprised by the decision to suspend operations.
Assad blames the violence on foreign-backed militants.