Syrian forces seek to wrest control of south, east Damascus suburbs


July 23, 2013

By Syria Direct staff

July 22, 2013

AMMAN: Violent battles are intensifying east and south of Damascus as Syrian regime forces seek to push back rebels holding territory in those areas and regain control of two key gateways to the capital.

“Both sides are attempting to impose their control on this front as a prelude to the decisive phase in the capital,” said a spokeswoman for the opposition news outlet Sana A-Thawra, based in Syria, who asked for anonymity.

The result, activists say, is an ongoing, deadly stalemate in the eastern suburbs 10km outside the capital during which neither side is gaining or ceding ground.

On Monday, “towns and villages woke up to the sounds of artillery, mortars and missile launchers that are demolishing East Ghouta,” said Anas al-Wazeir, 28, a spokesman for the Douma LCC outside Damascus.

While the FSA is not advancing “because of the acute shortage in ammunition and effective advanced weapons,” al-Wazeir says the rebels are managing to stave off regime advances, echoing other activists on the ground in Outer Damascus.

For the past 10 months, Assad’s forces have imposed a blockade on East Ghouta, “encircling it with security checkpoints and employing heavy military campaigns to push revolutionaries deeper inside, then carrying out air strikes,” the Sana a-Thawra spokeswoman said, describing tactics the regime’s army employs across the country.

It is the free reign over Syrian skies “that remains the regime’s greatest advantage,” says Amir, 22, a citizen journalist in the Damascus suburbs who asked to be identified by only his first name.

The opposition Sham News Network reported on Monday “fierce clashes” in Palestinian refugee districts in south Damascus, in addition to fighting in Qaboon, Barzeh and other areas ringing the capital.

Activists and the opposition Syrian Coalition accused the regime of using chemical gas during fighting at the Yarmouk Camp in south Damascus, where Free Syrian Army fighters have been holed up.

“Assad’s forces are using chemical and toxic gas bombs to shell the Yarmouk Palestinian Camp,” the Syrian National Coalition said in a statement on Monoday, adding that the use of chemical weapons “only proves the desperate state that Assad’s regime has reached.”

Regime forces are reportedly relying on foreign fighters to back up the army in its campaigns around Damascus. Whether from Iran, Iraq, Lebanon or even Afghanistan or Yemen, the mercenaries backing Assad are “disciplined soldiers who carry weaponry and expertise the Syrian army lack,” said Amir, the citizen journalist in Outer Damascus.

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