Syrian government forces and the opposition were locked in heavy fighting outside Damascus on Tuesday, activists said, in the worst violence in the suburbs of the capital since an uprising against embattled President Bashar al-Assad began 16 months ago.
Video published by activists recorded heavy gunfire and explosions. A thick trail of blood on a sidewalk in the suburb of Qudsiya led into a building where one casualty had been taken. A naked man writhed in agony, his body pierced by shrapnel. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported heavy fighting near the Republican Guard headquarters in Qudsiya, and in the suburbs of al-Hama and Mashrou’ Dumar, just 9 kilometers (6 miles) outside Damascus.
Samir al-Shami, an activist in Damascus, said tanks and armoured vehicles were also out on the streets of the suburbs and some activists reported that one tank had been blown up. The British-based Observatory, which has a network of activists across Syria, said security forces and armored vehicles stormed the neighborhood of Barzeh, an opposition toehold inside Damascus, and there were sounds of heavy gunfire.
The revolt against Assad’s rule has become increasingly violent in response to an army crackdown. Fighting is now reported regularly in Damascus, once considered a bastion of Assad support. Video shot by anti-government activists in the city of Homs showed detonations from heavy weapons and plumes of black smoke rising over the rooftops of smashed and abandoned buildings.
Aid workers were on their way back to Homs to try to evacuate trapped civilians and wounded, but negotiations are still under way to secure safe access, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in Geneva. “We cannot foresee when the team will be able to do so.” ICRC spokesman Bijan Farnoudi told Reuters.
Aid workers have been seeking access to the flashpoint city since government forces and opposition groups agreed last week to the agency’s request for a humanitarian pause in the fighting.
Joumaa would welcome lifting of ban from Games
In another development, Syrian Olympic Committee head Gen. Mowaffak Joumaa said he hasn’t been officially banned from attending the London Games, and dismissed media statements that Britain won’t grant him a visa as a “fabricated media campaign.”
An official involved in the Olympic movement told The AP on Friday that Britain has refused to give Joumaa a visa because of his links to Assad’s regime. In a statement issued by al-Baath newspaper on Tuesday, Joumaa said if such a ban was issued, “it would be an honor for me as a Syrian citizen who loves his people and homeland.”
“If Britain issues such a decision under political pretexts and other illusions and justifications, then its objective will be to pressure Syria in all fields, including sports.” He stressed that sports, like anything else in Syria, was subject to pressures and conspiracy “to undermine the steadfastness and unity of the Syrian people.” However, he said, all Syrian athletes stood behind the process of reforms and modernization led by Assad. About 10 Syrian athletes are due to compete in London.