SYRIAN UPRISING INTENSIFIES WITH CLASHES OUTSIDE CAPITAL

Wall Street Journal on January 30, 2012, reported that Syria’s government moved to defend Damascus as its military fought rebel troops outside the capital for a third day on January 29, as the battle moved ever closer to President Bashar al-Assad’s seat of power. Excerpts below:

Rounds of fighting rocked at least four suburbs for most of the 29th, residents and activists said. They described a government offensive to regain control of restive towns around Damascus that have become the latest concentration of armed resistance against Mr. Assad’s regime.

The sustained fighting appears to suggest the government is struggling to maintain control of some areas around the capital, 11 months into a conflict in which military and security forces had repeatedly crushed protests—and a gradually militarized opposition movement—across the country. Analysts said it likely also suggests the regime’s loyal units were becoming severely overstretched, risking the government’s defense of the capital itself as it increasingly deploys troops to the suburbs.

The fighting around Damascus, which has killed dozens of people in recent days, has come amid a surge in confidence by opposition fighters, just as Arab diplomacy on Syria’s crisis appeared to reach another dead-end and Syria’s political opposition made a new push at the United Nations Security Council for action against the regime.

At least 16 people were killed in areas around the capital Sunday, according to Local Coordination Committees, an activist network.

Activists said at least 50 tanks moved into al-Ghouta, the city’s eastern agricultural belt, on the 29th, firing artillery and rockets while snipers shot from rooftops. Communications, electricity and water were cut off from a handful of towns, several activist groups said. Some activists said bodies lay in the street.

Closer to the capital, opposition fighters loosely organized under the dissident Free Syrian Army claimed some successes.

As often in Syria’s crisis, the conflict on the ground outpaced the diplomacy. “We can finally say the military balance is starting to shift in our favor,” said a senior commander with the dissident army near Syria’s border with Lebanon. In another show of force, dissident troops said they were positioned in a suburb no more than five miles from the presidential palace in Damascus.

On Saturday, the Arab League suspended its monitoring mission, saying a spike in violence hampered the mission’s work, criticizing the government for not holding up its end of a deal to stop the violence.

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