Fighting continues in Syria amid rumors of chemical weapons threat
Published Thursday, December 6, 2012
Troops and rebels fought fiercely around Syria on Thursday, focusing on the capital's outskirts, as the international community focused on the eventuality of chemical weapons being used by President Bashar al-Assad.
These concerns are likely to be raised during Thursday talks in Dublin between the top Russian and US diplomats and the international peace envoy, with the UN chief Ban Ki-Moon saying al-Assad must face justice if he uses his chemical arsenal.
The Syrian army shelled Douma and Zabadani to the northeast of the capital and Daraya and Moadamiyet al-Sham to the southwest, official and activist sources said.
As the army escalated its assault on rebel-held Daraya, the scene in August of the single worst massacre in Syria's 21-month conflict, additional troops were deployed to the town.
"Syrian army units continued today to pursue terrorists loyal to (the radical Islamist) Al-Nusra Front, which is part of Al-Qaeda, in Daraya," state news agency SANA said.
Citing an unnamed military source, the agency also said "Daraya will be completely cleansed of terrorists soon," using its standard term for rebels.
An anti-Assad activist told AFP over the Internet that the army is advancing little by little into Daraya, though the rebel Free Syrian Army is fighting hard to keep the troops out of the town.
"The army has been able to enter into around 30 percent of Daraya in recent days, and there are serious fears about what would happen to the town if the troops do reclaim it," said the man, who identified himself as Abu Kinan.
In the capital itself, security forces swarmed the southern district of Zahra after a car bomb exploded. While the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said no one was killed, Syrian state television said "Al-Qaeda terrorists exploded a bomb in a car in front of a Red Crescent centre in Damascus, causing one death and major damage."
The Damascus province is now a key battlefield, as the army battles to retake control of an eight-kilometre belt around the capital, analysts say.
The UN estimates the death toll in Syria to be at around 23,000, although figures are difficult to verify in Syria due to tight media restrictions and and deteriorating security.
Survival has become difficult for many throughout Syria as the conflict drags on. Lines of people waiting for bread stretched for several hundred meters in Aleppo.
In Dublin, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and UN peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi amid fears the regime could be preparing to use chemical weapons as it battles the rebels.
Clinton warned Damascus on Wednesday that this was a clear red line that must not be crossed.
"Our concerns are that an increasingly desperate Assad regime might turn to chemical weapons or might lose control of them to one of the many groups that are now operating within Syria," Clinton said.
Speaking in Baghdad on Thursday, UN chief Ban said Assad should be "brought to justice" if his regime uses chemical weapons.
He said he had warned that whoever does so "will have to be brought to justice, and it will create serious consequences to those people."