Syrian Army regulars attacked two large Damascus suburbs Wednesday, using tank fire in an attempt to rout entrenched rebel forces. The bombardment came in response to renewed attacks overnight late Tuesday by the Free Syrian Army on government forces in Harasta and Irbin.
The government-controlled Syrian News Agency, meanwhile, supplied international news agencies with handout photos of President Bashar al-Assad visiting the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, politely chatting with a hijab-clad woman and admiring a huge, framed copy of the Koran.
The loyalists retook the area two months ago from the rebels who had seized control over the suburbs in fierce fighting near the eastern edge of the capital. Anti-aircraft barrages and heavy artillery struck the two communities overnight, and army helicopters were heard by residents huddling in their homes, activists said.
FSA fighters, using rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), attacked a large Air Force Intelligence compound that reportedly is key in the crackdown against the year-old uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Other sites targeted by the rebels include the army roadblocks set up along the roads inside and between the suburbs ringing the capital, activists told reporters. Government tanks were reportedly shelling near the Damascus-Aleppo highway that runs along the two suburbs, and north of the Barzeh neighborhood.
At least 57 people were killed on Tuesday, mostly in the cities of Homs, Hama and Idlib, activists reported, as the civil war continued across the country.
More than 8,000 civilians have been murdered by government forces in the past year, according to human rights groups and United Nations estimates. It is impossible to obtain exact figures due to the government ban on journalists and other international figures from entering the country to assess such matters.
Numerous journalists, in fact, have been targeted in shelling by government forces. Several were killed and numerous others were wounded in such attacks last month; a number of others are missing in action, including two Turkish reporters.