Heavy clashes rock heavily guarded Damascus district
BEIRUT - Deadly clashes on Monday rocked a district of the capital of Syria, as pressure grew for a daily humanitarian truce and for international monitors to be deployed across the violence-swept country.
President Bashar al-Assad's security forces, meanwhile, launched attacks in several regions, opposition activists said.
The pre-dawn fighting in a heavily guarded area of Damascus, the capital's heaviest since a revolt against Assad's regime erupted a year ago, came as residents were still reeling from deadly bombings at the weekend.
At least three rebels and a member of the security forces were killed in the upscale western neighbourhood of Mazzeh, state television and monitors reported.
"Three terrorists were killed and a fourth was arrested in the fighting between security forces and an armed terrorist gang sheltered in a house of a residential district," the television said.
Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said four rebels were killed and their remaining comrades, in a unit of six to 10 fighters, were wounded or captured.
He said the fighters fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the home of a top army officer, as they brought the conflict to the capital.
Security forces suffered two dead and 16 wounded in the operation, said the head of the Britain-based monitoring group, while the television report said one member of the security forces was killed and three others wounded.
Mourtada Rasheed, an activist in Damascus, said blasts and heavy shooting could be heard in Mazzeh as well as two other districts, Qaboon and Arbeen.
A resident of Qaboon who did not wish to be named said "we woke up at 3:00 am (0100 GMT) to the sound of heavy machinegun fire and rocket-propelled grenades."
A resident of Mazzeh, which is overlooked by Assad's clifftop presidential palace and home to several embassies, said locals were terrified by the rattle of gunfire.
"We were very scared," she said.
On the humanitarian front, the international Red Cross said its chief had received "positive indications of support" from Moscow on his proposal for a daily two-hour truce in Syria for aid workers to deliver relief.
"In their meeting, the ICRC received positive indications of support for our initiative of a daily halt in fighting in all the regions affected by the violence," said an International Committee of the Red Cross spokesman.
ICRC chief Jakob Kellenberger met in Moscow with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, whose country is an ally of Damascus and can exert influence.
"We hope to see concrete results from our contacts on the ground. In the meanwhile, we will continue our humanitarian activities with our partner, the Syrian Red Crescent," spokesman Hicham Hassan said in Geneva.
A mission sent by UN-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan arrived in Damascus for talks on a monitoring operation to end the conflict that monitors say has cost more than 9,100 lives since last March.
"There are five people with expertise in political, peacekeeping and mediation," Ahmad Fawzi, spokesman for Annan, told AFP in Geneva, declining to disclose their precise plans or whereabouts.
"They will be staying for as long as they are making progress on reaching agreement on practical steps to implement Mr Annan's proposals," he added.
Separately, technical experts from the UN and Organisation of Islamic Cooperation were working on Monday on a Syrian government-led mission to assess the impact of the deadly crackdown on protests.
The seven-to-10-day mission, which includes three OIC experts, was to cover 15 cities, on the first such assignment in Syria since the violence started. It was launched in the flashpoint province of Homs on Sunday.
Monday's clashes in the capital came after twin car bombs ripped through two neighbourhoods of Damascus on Saturday killing 27 people, according to the interior ministry.
Another car bomb exploded on Sunday killing two people in a residential neighbourhood of the northern city of Aleppo, where the president enjoys a strong support base, as in Damascus.
The regime and rebels have traded charges of responsibility for the attacks.
Troops backed by dozens of tanks raided districts of Deir Ezzor city in eastern Syria on Monday, the Observatory said, a day after at least 25 army deserters were killed and 33 wounded in seizing its Hamidiya district.
Five soldiers, including two officers, were also killed, it said.
In the centre of the country, soldiers bombarded the Bab Sbaa, Khalidiyeh and Karm al-Shami districts of Homs, which has been relentlessly pounded since early February, the monitoring group said.
Troops in the northwestern province of Idlib launched an assault on Abdita, home village of defector Colonel Riyadh Asaad, head of the Turkey-based Free Syrian Army, local activist Nurredin al-Abdo said.
The Observatory added that troops also besieged and stormed the town of Kafar Shams, in the southern province of Daraa.