Damascus clashes: Rebels “not strong enough yet to topple Assad’s troops”

Damascus residents fleeing a neighbourhood hit by heavy shelling.
 
Fighting is escalating in Syria’s capital Damascus, where government forces are targeting neighbourhoods harbouring rebels by bombing them from helicopter gunships. With fierce clashes between Bashar al-Assad’s troops and rebel fighters on the ground, some Syrian activists are claiming the uprising is at a turning point. However, according to our Observers in Damascus, there may still be a long road ahead.
 
The past three days mark the fiercest fighting seen inside the capital since the beginning of the uprising in March of last year. Before, any clashes took place under the cover of darkness; now they’re indiscriminate.
 
The Free Syrian Army’s Joint Command, based in Homs, said in a statement Tuesday that “the battle for the liberation of Damascus has begun.” According to French news agency AFP, the joint command’s spokesman, Colonel Kassem Saadeddine, said: “We have a clear plan to control the whole of Damascus. We only have light weapons, but it’s enough.”
 
Also on Tuesday, Syria’s state-run news agency said that government troops are going after “terrorist elements,” which is the term it frequently uses to describe the government’s opponents.
 
Residents fleeing Damascus' southern Al Tadamon neighbourhood following heavy shelling.
Contributors

“With tanks surrounding the neighbourhood, it’s getting harder and harder for people to flee the bombing”

Diima (not her real name) is an activist in Damascus. She lives in the northern neighbourhood of Al Qaboon, but fled Tuesday morning after a night of heavy shelling. She is now staying in a safer part of the city.
 
Two of my relatives were killed last night – one was hit by shell debris and another by a sniper. My brother’s store burned to the ground after it was hit by a shell. Lots of fires broke out, but it was very difficult to extinguish them, because helicopters overhead continued to bomb us relentlessly and snipers were firing everywhere, too. Many people from my neighbourhood, including myself, fled to safer parts of the city. Al Qaboon continues to be heavily bombed today, and with tanks surrounding the neighbourhood, it’s getting harder and harder for people to flee.
 
This is the first time I’ve seen such a large crackdown inside the capital. It seems that the government is going all-out to squelch the revolution before the month of Ramadan begins.

“The Free Syrian Army has set up roadblocks around some neighbourhoods to try to protect them, but this will not protect them from tanks and helicopters”
 
The Syrian regime is targeting my neighbourhood and several others – Al Midan, Al Asaly, and Kafar Souseh – because they know that activists and soldiers from the Free Syrian Army are hiding there. And of course, the Free Syrian Army is fighting back, with what weapons they have – guns, rocket-propelled grenades – but they’re not strong enough yet to topple Al-Assad’s troops, who have heavy weaponry. The Free Syrian Army has set up roadblocks around some neighbourhoods to try to protect them, but this will not protect them from tanks and helicopters.
 

“We’re hearing reports that Free Syrian Army fighters from around the country are on their way to Damascus. This gives me hope that the wind may turn”

Sofy (not her real name) is an activist living in the Al Tadamon neighbourhood of in southern Damascus.
 
Al Tadamon was the first neighbourhood to be targeted by the regime’s troops; we’ve been under constant attack since Saturday afternoon. Soldiers shooting from tanks have destroyed homes and terrorized the population. The vast majority of civilians have fled the neighbourhood. The few left are men trying to keep their houses safe from looting.
 
There are a few of us activists that have stayed behind to make videos and report on what’s going on. There are also fighters from the Free Syrian Army, who are doing their best to keep the neighbourhood safe from the troops. They know the streets like the back of their hands, but they’re outmatched by the regime’s troops in terms of numbers and sheer force – we’re making calls to everyone we can think of to try to get them just a few hundred bullets, and basic things like that.
 
So it’s difficult for them right now, but we’re hearing that Free Syrian Army fighters from around the country are on their way to the capital, and should arrive within the next couple of days. This gives me hope that the wind may turn, and that we may win the battle for Damascus after all.

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