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Fierce fighting in Damascus signals rebels remain unbowed

Today's fighting in Damascus and three weekend car bombings suggest a protracted fight between rebels and the Syrian Army, despite recent tactical gains by the regime.

By Correspondent / March 19, 2012

Damaged houses are seen during a heavy firefight that broke out between rebels and the Syrian government army in the affluent Mezze neighborhood in Damascus on Monday.

Reuters

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Beirut, Lebanon

Fierce fighting in the Syrian capital of Damascus today as well as three weekend car bombings and the spread of anti-regime demonstrations in the north signal that that the year-old rebellion will persist despite recent tactical gains by the Syrian military.

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Early today, heavy clashes were reported to have broken out in the affluent Mezze neighborhood in west Damascus between members of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) and security forces. Syrian TV said four people died, including three “terrorists” and a member of the security forces. Rami Abdel Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 18 soldiers or security personnel were killed. Another unverified report said as many as 80 people died in the pre-dawn clashes.

The fighting in the Mezze quarter indicates that the FSA remains unbowed despite recent setbacks and ongoing logistical difficulties. That suggests the confrontation between the Assad regime and the opposition is set to grow more violent in the weeks and months ahead.

“There are seven wonders of the world, yes? If Assad stays in power, that would be the eighth wonder of the world," says Hakim, a Syrian opposition activist in hiding in north Lebanon who gives only his nom de guerre. "We have to be patient and wait for the regime to go because there is no going back now.”

The work of Al Qaeda?

The twin car bombings in Damascus on Saturday and another in Aleppo on Sunday – which appeared to target buildings containing security offices – killed around 30 people, wounded more than 160, and caused widespread damage.

As with earlier car bomb attacks in the two cities, the Syrian authorities and opposition accused each other of perpetrating them.

Syrian TV showed footage of damage and a bloodied hand print at the scene of the Aleppo bombing.

“The fingerprints [of those behind the attack] are obvious,” it said.

Syrian media outlets blamed Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the two Arab countries most critical of the Assad regime, for the bomb attacks. The most influential Syrian opposition group, the Syrian National Council (SNC), said that the Assad regime perpetrated the attacks “to tell residents that the country is sliding into chaos.”

“The Syrian regime wants to terrorize [large population centers], especially Damascus and Aleppo where large demonstrations have taken place these past few weeks,” Samir Nashar, a member of SNC, told Agence France-Presse.

As with earlier car bombings in Damascus and Aleppo, there was no claim of responsibility for the weekend attacks.

Last month, James Clapper, the US director of national intelligence, told Congress that previous bombings against Syrian security and intelligence buildings bore “all the hallmarks of an Al-Qaeda-like attack." He warned that the failure of the Syrian political opposition to form a united front could allow Al Qaeda to fill the vacuum.

It is as yet unclear whether Al Qaeda, or like-minded groups, have penetrated Syria in any great numbers.

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