Fighting in Damascus belies Syrian government's claim of control

Syrian government troops and rebel forces clashed in the most violence Damascus has seen in the year-old uprising.

Bassem Tellawi/AP
Syrian security officers investigate a damaged building near the aviation intelligence department, which was attacked by one of two explosions, in Damascus, Syria, on March 17. Twin bombings struck government targets in the Syrian capital early Saturday, killing security forces and civilians, according to state-run television.

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Fighting erupted between Syria’s opposition forces and government troops in the capital today. Witnesses reported hearing heavy machine gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades as the rebel Free Syria Army clashed with government troops.  

The fighting reportedly took place in Mezzeh, a neighborhood that is home to a number of government security facilities, United Nations headquarters, and foreign embassies. Many government loyalists also live in the area.

Monday’s violence is the most fighting seen in Damascus since the Syrian uprising began a year ago. The clashes stand in stark opposition to claims by the Syrian government that they are in control of the capital.

“This means that the regime does not have full control of the [Mezze] area,” said Lena, a spokeswoman for the Revolution Leadership Council in Damascus, in a Skype interview with the Guardian. “It was [said] that the Free Syrian Army was carrying out a mission there, but we still don't know. We haven't heard anything from their part yet. But it seems that there might have been a defection in a building there – the political intelligence department.”

Al-Arabiya has reported that more than 200 Syrian government soldiers defected in the Damascus suburbs.

Fighting has also continued in other regions of the country as well. On Saturday, a car bomb detonated in Aleppo, Syria’s second biggest city, killing three people. In Damascus, a mourning ceremony for the victims of car bombings on Saturday turned into an anti-government demonstration and state security forces broke up protests by some 200 mourners, reports Al Jazeera. Coming a day later, the fighting has shaken government assertions that Damascus is still under government authority.

“This is taking place as the government claims they have control over the capital,” said Al Jazeera’s Rula Amin. “Mezzeh is not geographically located at the heart of the capital but it's a very important neighborhood. It is heavily guarded.”

Rebels also reported gains against government forces in eastern Syria. The Local Coordination Committees of Syria, an opposition activist network, said that Free Syria Army fighters had successfully battled the government forces who had been shelling them in Deir Ezzor, reports CNN.

As violence drags on in Syria with no immediate end in sight, there are mounting concerns that without a solution the situation will have regional and global impacts. Bordering Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Israel, and Lebanon, the Arab nation occupies a strategically vital area of the Middle East. Syria’s various sectarian groups could also create problems and have already put regional powers at odds, the Los Angeles Times reports.

“Syria is unique because it is linked to so many players,” Rami G. Khouri, an expert at the American University of Beirut, told the L.A. Times. “You have an internal conflict in Syria. But you also have a regional conflict and a global one. It exists at all three levels.”

At least 8,000 people have died during the Syrian uprising over the past year, the longest and bloodiest Arab Spring revolt, reports the BBC

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