Heavy Fighting in Syrian Capital

Posted August 23rd, 2012 at 1:05 pm (UTC-5)
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Parts of Syria's capital were under siege Thursday, with pitched fighting reported between Syrian government forces and rebels.

Activists reported shelling and house-to-house raids in Daraya, on the edge of Damascus, as well as clashes in the city's Hajar al-Aswad district.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebel fighters killed or wounded 10 government troops at a military checkpoint on the Daraa-Damascus highway.

The group told VOA at least 41 people were killed during fighting in Damascus on Wednesday.

The Observatory also said clashes continued in the northern city of Aleppo, where some foreign fighters are reported to have joined the opposition.

Speaking in Damascus, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Miqdad accused Turkey of providing arms to Syrian rebels opposed to the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.

“The aspects that have fueled this crisis are well known. Armed groups, terrorist groups, support by regional circles including the dangerous support by Turkey of the terrorist gangs, of providing these with sophisticated weapons and of giving each terrorist in the world, including al-Qaida, free access to Turkey to come to Syria.''

In Ankara, Turkish and U.S. officials were holding their first “operational planning” meeting to coordinate military, intelligence and political responses to the Syrian crisis.

Miqdad also expressed sorrow for the death of Japanese journalist Mika Yamamoto, who was killed earlier this week when she was caught in a gunfight between rebel and government forces in Aleppo.

But Miqdad was also critical of the way Yamamoto entered the country, and he said Syria's government is not to blame for her death.

“When a certain journalist acts in an irresponsible way he/she would expect all these hard probabilities. But the Syrian government is definitely not responsible for this, and I guess some armed gangs committed levels of crime including killing such an innocent person and then accusing the government of it.”

Yamamoto was traveling with rebels at the time she was killed. Two Alhurra TV journalists who were with her are still missing.

Alhurra's parent organization — which also oversees the Voice of America — has urged the Syrian government to ensure the safety of the two journalists, correspondent Bashar Fahmi and cameraman Cuneyt Unal.

Meanwhile, fighting between pro- and anti-Assad gunmen erupted for a fourth day Thursday in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli. The clashes breached a truce agreed to by political leaders less than 24 hours earlier in a bid to halt fighting fueled by the conflict in neighboring Syria.

Sunni Muslims have led the revolt against Mr. Assad, whose minority Alawite sect has mostly stood with him. Sunni-Alawite tensions have been growing in parts of Lebanon as well, such as Tripoli, where the two groups live in neighboring districts.