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Fresh clashes rock Syria cities


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There have been heavy clashes in several of Syria’s main cities

Fierce fighting between government security forces and rebels has been reported in Syria’s two biggest cities – Damascus and Aleppo.

The army’s elite fourth division, backed by helicopters, has reportedly launched an assault on the capital’s north-eastern suburb of Barzeh.

Troops were also said to have deployed in the western suburb of Mezzeh.

Fighting also continued for a third day in Aleppo, where activists said a building had collapsed under tankfire.

The violence follows a week in which rebels made major advances, taking control of several parts of Damascus, seizing border crossings and claiming an attack that killed four top security officials, including the defence minister and President Bashar al-Assad’s brother-in-law.

Meanwhile, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has reported that at least 19,106 people had been killed since March 2011.

They included 13,296 civilians, including those who had taken up arms, as well as 4,861 security personnel and 949 army defectors, it said.

The UN said in May that at least 10,000 people had been killed, while in June the Syrian government reported that 6,947 Syrians had died, including at least 3,211 civilians and 2,566 security forces personnel.

‘Tactical withdrawal’

The attack on Barzeh by the army’s fourth division, which is commanded by the president’s brother Maher, had sent residents fleeing from the area, the Syrian Observatory reported.

Helicopter gunships were bombarding the district and snipers were deployed on rooftops, the group’s director, Rami Abdul Rahman, told the AFP news agency.

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The regime is cutting Qaboun into sectors by deploying tanks on the main roads and crossings to prevent any fighters from moving freely”

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Free Syrian Army fighter

“The deployment in Barzeh is very heavy,” he said, adding that troops had also massed outside the Mezzeh district.

Earlier, state television showed pictures of soldiers on the streets of the north-eastern suburb of Qaboun, after an attack involving heavy artillery, tanks and helicopters.

The streets were largely deserted and strewn with debris and rubble.

State television carried gruesome pictures of many bodies of what it called “terrorists”, and showed quantities of arms and ammunition it said were seized, reports the BBC’s Jim Muir in Beirut.

“The regime is cutting Qaboun into sectors by deploying tanks on the main roads and crossings to prevent any fighters from moving freely,” a rebel fighter told the New York Times.

Government forces have yet to restore their control over the whole city, our correspondent adds.

But activists said the army had distributed leaflets warning people to get out of quarters in the north and south of the capital because of impending bombardments. At Rukn al-Din, in the north, FSA fighters had carried out a “tactical withdrawal”, they added.

Aleppo explosions

Reports from activists in Aleppo said there had been more clashes during the night and on Sunday morning between the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) and security forces.

Screengrab of video purportedly showing Seif al-Dawla district of Aleppo (22 July 2012)Activists said a building in the Seif al-Dawla district collapsed under tank fire

They said a building in the Seif al-Dawla district collapsed under tank fire.

Residents also told the Reuters news agency that rebels were fighting government forces near the headquarters of an intelligence agency in the city centre.

The towns of Atareb, Kafr Karmeen and Abazmo, which lie between Aleppo and the Turkish border to the west, were also reportedly bombarded by security forces.

On Saturday, activists said there had been fierce fighting in the Salah al-Din district, and that there had been large explosions and persistent gunfire.

FSA fighters were reported to have stormed all government buildings in the area and raised the rebel Syrian flag above them.

Activists said residents feared troops were massing for an assault on Salah al-Din, a dense, heavily-populated district with many entrances.

There were also reports of violence in the eastern city of Deir al-Zour on Sunday. Witnesses told Reuters that it was being attacked with artillery and rockets from helicopter gunships.

The Local Co-ordination Committees, an activist network, said 18 people were killed in Aleppo on Saturday. It put the nationwide death toll at 130, including 34 in Homs province and 28 in Damascus and its suburbs.

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