Activists: Syrian Rebels Attack Military Sites Around Damascus

Posted November 16th, 2011 at 5:20 am (UTC-5)
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Syrian opposition activists say army defectors have attacked a military base near the capital, Damascus, in an apparent escalation of an eight-month uprising against the autocratic government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The activists say rebels of the Free Syrian Army fired rockets and machine guns at an air force intelligence complex in the Damascus suburb of Harasta early Wednesday.

There was no independent confirmation of the rebel attack or information about casualties. The rebels have engaged in increasingly deadly battles with government forces in the past week. But, those confrontations had been concentrated in other parts of Syria, including the northwestern region of Idlib, the central region of Homs and southern region of Daraa.

Syria's uprising began in March with street protests against Mr. Assad's 11-year autocratic rule and opposition activists have continued staging peaceful rallies since then, despite Syrian security forces frequently using deadly weapons to stop them.

Mr. Assad faced increased regional isolation as foreign ministers from Arab nations and Turkey prepared to meet Wednesday in Morocco to consider additional sanctions against his government for refusing to end the crackdown. The top diplomats of the 22-member Arab League were holding talks in Rabat on the sidelines of an Arab-Turkish cooperation forum also attended by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

The Arab League voted Saturday to suspend Syria's membership, accusing Damascus of failing to implement a deal with the regional bloc to stop the violent crackdown on dissent. The suspension was due to take effect Wednesday.

Syria said it would boycott the league's Rabat meeting, in which foreign ministers were expected to discuss measures such as withdrawing ambassadors from Damascus. U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner urged the league to send Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a message that he needs to allow a democratic transition to take place and end violence against his own people.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday the Syrian president risks being remembered in history as a leader who “feeds on blood.” Turkey has strongly criticized the Syrian crackdown and a series of assaults on Turkish missions in the country. Assad supporters tried to break into the missions Saturday, angered by Turkish support for the Arab League's vote to suspend Syria.

Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said Tuesday that Ankara has stopped a project with Syria for joint oil exploration in the country. He also said Turkey may have to review its supply of electricity to Syria if its southern neighbor does not change course. A Turkish official told the Associated Press that Ankara supplies about 10 percent of Syria's annual electricity consumption.

Syrian state television reported Tuesday the government had released at least 1,100 people detained during the unrest, in what appeared to be an attempt to appease Arab League demands.

But, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 12 civilians were killed or found dead Tuesday in the latest assaults by government forces on protest hubs around the country. It said eight people were killed by gunfire, while the bodies of four people arrested in recent days were handed to relatives.

The United Nations says at least 3,500 people have been killed in connection with the Syrian revolt since March. Syria blames much of the violence on foreign-backed terrorists and religious extremists.