Alison Tahmizian Meuse, AFP
Last updated: 8 October, 2012

Syrian rebel strongholds pounded, leaving more than 20 dead

A string of rebel bastions across Syria was rocked by regime shelling and clashes on Monday, as several army checkpoints also came under attack, with at least 61 people killed nationwide, a rights group said.

Twenty of the deaths occurred when the army launched an intensive pre-dawn assault on the town of Karak al-Sharqi in the southern province of Daraa, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

In the northwest province of Idlib, five soldiers were killed and three officers, including a brigadier general, were captured during clashes with rebels at a checkpoint in the village of Zaayniyeh, the Britain-based group said.

The rebels, who also lost one of their own men, seized that checkpoint and another on the road between Jisr al-Shughur and the village of Darkush on the Turkish border, amid ongoing clashes.

AFP correspondents have observed that large swathes of territory in northern Syria are in rebel hands.

At least five rebels were among those killed in Karak al-Sharqi, said the Observatory, which added that some of the deaths occurred when troops targeted cars ferrying the wounded to field hospitals and clinics.

The village has suffered repeated military assault, heavy shelling and attempts to storm it over the past three days and was facing “a crippling blockade and terrible medical and humanitarian conditions,” the Observatory said.

“The army is carrying out raids in some parts of Karak al-Sharqi now, but they haven’t succeeded in taking it from the rebels. Fighting has died down since the morning,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

In the central city of Homs, the army bombarded the rebel stronghold of Khaldiyeh from the early morning using warplanes, tanks, artillery and mortars in a concerted multi-pronged attack, the Observatory said.

It also reported shelling of the beleaguered districts of Qusayr and Old Homs.

“There is heavy shelling as well as fierce clashes around the district, but the rebels are resisting the army onslaught,” Abdel Rahman said.

In Damascus, troops razed houses in the eastern neighbourhoods of Qaboon and Barzeh, causing residents to flee.

“Over the weekend there was an attack on an army checkpoint in Barzeh that killed a number of soldiers. This is the consequence,” said Abdel Rahman.

Two civilians were killed when troops shelled pockets of rebel resistance in the northern city of Aleppo, Syria’s commercial capital.

West of the city, fierce clashes took place around the strategic Base 46, where the army has held the vast barracks on high ground in Al-Atarib for the past two weeks.

Aleppo, which since mid-July has been the focal point of the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, was rattled from early morning by shelling of rebel-held areas and firefights between rebels and troops, the Observatory said.

Residents told AFP that the Bustan al-Basha, Haidariyeh and Sheikh Khodr districts in the north came under heavy artillery bombardment and that fierce clashes could be heard.

Abdullah, who moved his wife and five children to a safer location after fighting erupted near their Haidariyeh home, said he fears for his life when he returns to check on the property.

“I try to visit every three days, but I am afraid. I went to Haidariyeh this morning and the situation was very bad. The electricity had just come on after an eight-day cut, there are no pharmacies and people lack the most basic needs.”

More than 31,000 people have been killed in Syria since the outbreak in March last year of an anti-regime revolt, which began as peaceful protests for reform but morphed into an armed insurgency when demonstrations were brutally crushed.

Most rebels, like the population, are Sunni in a country dominated by a minority Alawite regime. Alawites are an offshoot of Shiite Islam.