Violent Clashes Erupt in Damascus as Prospects for Talks Seem Shallow

4798Syrian insurgents attacked military checkpoints and other targets in parts of central Damascus on Wednesday, antigovernment activist groups reported, shattering a lull in the fighting as prospects for any talks between the antagonists appeared to dim.

A building in the Damascus suburb of Zamalka was hit by a mortar shell fired by the Syrian Army on Wednesday.
The outbreak came a week after the opposition coalition's top political leader first proposed the surprise idea of a dialogue with President Bashar al-Assad's government aimed at ending the civil war. Frustrated over the government's failure to respond definitively, the opposition leader, Sheik Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib, gave it a Sunday deadline.

Some antigovernment activists described the resumption of fighting, which had lapsed for the past few weeks, as part of a renewed effort by rebels to seize control of central Damascus, the Syrian capital, although that depiction seemed highly exaggerated. Witness accounts said many people were going about their business, while others noted that previous rebel claims of territorial gains in Damascus had almost always turned out to be embellished or unfounded.

Representatives of the Military Council of Damascus, an insurgent group, said that at least 33 members of President Assad's security forces in Damascus had surrendered, while others had fled central Al Abasiyeen Square, and that other government forces had erected roadblocks on all access streets to the area to thwart the movement of rebel fighters.

Salam Mohammed, an activist in Damascus, described Al Abasiyeen Square as "on fire," and a video clip uploaded on YouTube showed a thick column of black smoke spiraling over the area while the sound of shelling could be heard. A voice is heard saying the shelling had started a fire. The Local Coordination Committees, an anti-Assad activist network in Syria, also reported gunfire in nearby streets.

Firas al-Horani, a military council spokesman, said fighters of the Free Syrian Army, the main armed opposition group, were in control of Al Abasiyeen Square. He also said, "The capital, Damascus, is in a state of paralysis at the moment, and clashes are in full force in the streets."

It was impossible to confirm Mr. Horani's assertions or the extent of the fighting because of Syrian government restrictions on foreign news organizations. But Syria's state-run media said insurgent claims of combat success in Damascus were false. "Those are miserable attempts to raise the morale of terrorists who are fleeing our valiant armed forces," said SANA, the official news agency.

Deadly violence also was reported in the Homs Province town of Palmyra, the site of a notorious prison where Mr. Assad's father, Hafez, ordered the summary execution of about 1,000 prisoners during an uprising against his family's grip on power in the 1980s.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group with a network of contacts inside Syria, said two booby-trapped cars exploded near the military intelligence and state security branches, killing at least 12 members of the security forces and wounding more than 20. The observatory said government forces deployed throughout Palmyra afterward, engaging in gun battles with insurgents that left at least eight civilians wounded in the cross-fire.

Source: The New York Times | HANIA MOURTADA and RICK GLADSTONE
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