Friday 24 November 2017

Syria: battles rage in Damascus suburbs

A Syrian forces tank moves along a road during clashes with the Syrian army defectors in the Rastan area in Homs. Photo: AP
A Syrian forces tank moves along a road during clashes with the Syrian army defectors in the Rastan area in Homs. Photo: AP

Syrian forces have pushed dissident troops back from the edge of Damascus in heavy fighting, escalating efforts to take back control of the capital's eastern doorstep.

Gunfire and the boom of shelling rang out on Monday in several suburbs on Damascus' outskirts that have come under the domination of anti-regime fighters, as rights groups reported nearly 100 casualties.



Gunmen – apparently army defectors – were shown firing back in amateur videos posted online by activists. In one video, a government tank on the snow-dusted mountain plateau towering over the capital fired at one of the suburbs below.



As the bloodshed increased, Western and Arab countries stepped up pressure on Mr Assad's ally Russia to overcome its opposition to the resolution.



The British Foreign Secretary William Hague along with US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the French foreign minister, were heading to New York to push for backing of the measure during talks today at the United Nations.



"The status quo is unsustainable," Mrs Clinton said, saying the Assad regime was preventing a peaceful transition and warning that the resulting instability could "spill over throughout the region."



The draft resolution demands that Mr Assad halt the crackdown and implement an Arab peace plan that calls for him to hand over power to his vice president and allow creation of a unity government to pave the way for elections.



If Mr Assad fails to comply within 15 days, the council would consider "further measures," a reference to a possible move to impose economic or other sanctions.



British Prime Minister David Cameron called the situation in Syria "appalling" and appealed Monday to Russia to back the U.N. Security Council resolution.



"It is time for all the members of U.N. Security Council to live up to their responsibilities instead of shielding those who have blood on their hands," Mr Cameron said.



Moscow, which in October vetoed the first council attempt to condemn Syria's crackdown, has shown little sign of budging in its opposition. It warns that the new measure could open the door to eventual military intervention, the way an Arab-backed UN resolution led to Nato air strikes in Libya.



A French official said the draft UN resolution has a "comfortable majority" of support from 10 of the Security Council's 15 members, meaning Russia or China would have to use its veto power to stop it. The official said Russia had agreed to negotiate on the draft, but it was not yet clear if it would be willing to back it if changes were made.







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