Syria troops hit back at rebels in Damascus and Aleppo

Government forces have hit back at rebel-held
areas in Syria's two biggest cities - Damascus
and Aleppo.
Sustained assaults were launched on Sunday
against the north-eastern Damascus suburb of
Barzeh, and against Mezzeh, in the west of the city.
Some reports from activists said troops regained
control of Mezzeh, killing about 20 people suspected
of helping the rebels.
Fighting was also said to be continuing in the
country's second city, Aleppo.
The government counterattack in Syria follows a
week in which rebels made major advances, taking
control of several parts of Damascus, seizing border
crossings and claiming an attack that killed four top
security officials, including the defence minister and
President Bashar al-Assad's brother-in-law.
The offensive against Mezzeh involved more than
1,000 troops and allied gunmen, backed by
armoured vehicles, tanks and bulldozers, according
to residents and activists quoted by the Reuters
news agency.
Government forces "executed" at least 20 men in
the area, some activists told the agency by
The attack on Barzeh, in the north-east of
Damascus, was carried out by the army's fourth
division, commanded by the president's brother
Maher, using tanks and armoured personnel carriers,
the Syrian Observatory reported.
Earlier on Sunday, state media said that all
"terrorists" - as the government calls the rebels -
had been "cleansed" from Qabun, a district east of
Barzeh. State television showed extensive
The BBC's Jim Muir in Beirut says government forces
seem determined to drive the rebel Free Syrian
Army completely out of Damascus and are setting
about it quite systematically.
Reports from activists in Aleppo said there were
clashes overnight from Saturday to Sunday between
the Free Syrian Army and security forces.
They said a building in the Seif al-Dawla district
collapsed under tank fire.
State TV played down the scale of the violence,
saying troops were merely hunting down
The commander of FSA forces in Aleppo province,
Col Abdul Jabbar Mohammed Aqidi, vowed to
"liberate" the whole city, called on government
troops to defect and vowed to protect members of
the president's minority Alawite sect.
There were also reports of violence in the eastern
city of Deir al-Zour on Sunday. Witnesses told
Reuters that it was being attacked with artillery and
rockets from helicopter gunships.
BBC sources in Syria also confirmed that rebels
were now in control of the Bab al-Salam border
crossing with Turkey. Turkey is not allowing non-
Syrian nationals through so the border remains
effectively closed.
Early on Monday, Qatar's Prime Minister, Hamad bin
Khalifa al-Thani, said a meeting of Arab League
foreign ministers in his country had offered
President Bashar al-Assad safe passage out of Syria
if he stepped down quickly.
He also said the gathering had urged the Free Syrian
Army rebels and the opposition to form a
transitional government.
And according to a report in the Wall Street Journal
on Sunday, the United States has been trying to
persuade Iraq to close its air space to flights
between Syria and Iran in order to stop arms and oil
shipments from reaching Syria. The West suspects
Tehran of supplying arms to President Assad.
On Sunday, the Syrian Observatory for Human
Rights reported that at least 19,106 people had been
killed since March 2011. The UN said in May that at
least 10,000 people had been killed
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