Front Lines Shift in Syrian Capital (WSJ) WALL STREET JOURNAL) By SAM DAGHER MASNAA, Lebanon 07/21/12)
WALL STREET JOURNAL
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Government Forces Retake Parts of Damascus but Rebels Stage Guerrilla
Fight, Driving Some Regime Backers Out of City
MASNAA, Lebanon—Syrian government forces routed rebels from several
Damascus neighborhoods on Friday but rebels struck back in others, as
fears of a protracted fight drove some well-to-do supporters of the
Assad regime from the capital.
Around 20,000 people have entered Lebanon through this main border
crossing since Wednesday, when a rebel bombing struck a meeting of
senior regime officials, Lebanese customs officers said. Most of the
refugees were families from Damascus, 25 miles to the east.
"The blood that has been spilled in Damascus has scared people," said
a native of the capital in her 50s, in Masnaa on Friday. "We do not
want to become another Iraq."
As rebels were pounded and driven from the northeastern district of
Qaboun on Friday, they began harassing government forces with
guerrilla tactics in nearby areas, activists said. "It´s a game of
alleyways," said an activist based in the city of 2.5 million people.
By nighttime Friday, government forces had begun pounding rebels in
another restive district to the southwest, residents said.
As the 17-month conflict looked increasingly likely to play out
militarily, the United Nations Security Council extended its 300-man
observer mission for 30 days, a day after Russia and China vetoed a
resolution that would have threatened sanctions against President
Bashar al-Assad´s regime while extending the U.N. mission.
The observer mission has been suspended since June and confined to a
hotel in Damascus. The extension will end in a month unless U.N.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon determines the Syrian government has
withdrawn heavy weapons and troops from populated areas—a shift seen
as unlikely as the battles continue in the capital.
"We believe that it is the right thing to do to give a final chance
for that mission to be able to fulfill its function, but we have
said, clearly, that it is a final extension, unless there is a change
in the dynamic on the ground," British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant
"We hope that the double veto yesterday will not put the Annan plan
in peril," said Peter Wittig, the German ambassador, referring to
U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan´s cease-fire plan, which has failed
to halt fighting by both sides in the Syrian conflict.
The rebels´ most direct hit on the regime so far claimed another
victim on Friday, with the death of national-security chief Gen.
Hisham Ikhtiyar from wounds suffered in Wednesday´s bombing, state
media reported. The attack had also killed three other officials
including the defense minister and President Assad´s brother-in-law.
A state funeral with full military honors was held Friday at the
Martyrs´ Memorial on a mountaintop overlooking Damascus for the
generals who died Wednesday, state media reported. Footage showed
three caskets draped in Syrian flags being towed by military trucks
with Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa and the newly appointed defense
minister, Gen. Fahed al-Freij, leading the procession.
Government troops on Friday reclaimed control of sections of the
central Damascus neighborhood of Midan that had been taken over by
rebels earlier in the week, according to state media and opposition
An activist said government troops captured or killed several rebel
fighters in Midan in the early hours of Friday. The activist
confirmed the accuracy of footage broadcast on Syrian state
television later Friday of scattered, slumped bodies under the
banner "the crushing of the mercenary terrorists in Midan."
Several antiregime fighters that were also said to be captured in
Midan were paraded in front of the camera. "We came to rid Midan and
all of Damascus from this disease," a Syrian army officer said.
Government forces meanwhile were using tank fire against rebels in
northeastern districts, the activists said—areas where clashes
involving heavy artillery and helicopter gunships have raged since
Most of the rebels now fighting in Damascus come from impoverished
and long-marginalized surrounding districts and suburbs. This has
heightened fears of those that live in more affluent neighborhoods
and remain either neutral or supportive of Mr. Assad, said residents
who had crossed into Lebanon.
"These are just people from the countryside, Syria is going to be OK,
this is the decisive battle and the president is staying," a refugee
in Masnaa said. His wife, with designer handbag and shoes, stood
nearby shielding their two-month-old baby from the blistering sun.
A family from the upscale Malki neighborhood said they planned to
stay in Lebanon for a few weeks only, until the army restored
security to the whole capital. "Security forces are deployed
everywhere," said a woman in her late 20s who said she works in trade
The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition
organization, said that since fighting intensified on Thursday at
least 430 people have been killed, including civilians, government
forces and rebels, as the regime appears to have intensified its
crackdown across the whole country after the Damascus bombing.
Outside the capital, earlier rebel claims that they were in control
of border crossings with Iraq and one of the main crossings with
Turkey appeared to be inconclusive.
Senior Iraqi officials said the Syrian government appeared to be
still in control of at least two of three border crossings with its
eastern neighbor while there were reports of intermittent clashes at
the Bab al-Hawa crossing with Turkey.
—Ali A. Nabhan in Baghdad and Joe Lauria in New York contributed to
this article. (Copyright © Dow Jones & Company, Inc.) 07/21/12)
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