Friday, December 15, 2017

Syrian troops press attacks against rebels

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Syrian troops continued to pound the suburbs of Damascus on Friday, as fighting raged in Aleppo and as rebels in the eastern city of Deir el-Zour reported seizing an armory that had been contested for days.

The most significant violence appeared to be in Daraya, a suburb of Damascus. Activists reported that over two days of fighting, 74 people had been killed there by shelling and in raids, which seemed to be part of the government's increased targeting of areas of rebel support outside the capital.

An activist in Damascus, reached by Skype, said that Daraya had drawn so much fire because it is considered a gathering spot for rebel commanders and is a hub for resources that serve the opposition.

Other activists said the armory in Daraya contained heavy weapons, possibly including rockets. They added that the assault had mainly affected civilians, who were trapped inside the town, and that living conditions were quickly deteriorating, with blackouts and shortages of food, water and medical care.

Fighting was also reported in Aleppo and other parts of the country. In Deir el-Zour, the rebels said that they had gained control of an armory and a checkpoint, but that a Syrian fighter jet had responded with an airstrike that killed at least 20 people. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is based in Britain and relies on a network of activists inside Syria, said the dead included 12 women and a child.

The figures and details could not be independently confirmed due to tight controls over the media in Syria.

The war in Syria also continued to reverberate in Lebanon. Violent clashes in Tripoli, Lebanon's second-largest city, entered their fifth day, as a Sunni leader was killed by a sniper from a neighborhood dominated by Alawites, members of the sect to which President Bashar Assad of Syria belongs. Another person was killed later in the day.

The heavy gunfire began just after 2 a.m. and continued for several hours. Around 6 a.m., gunmen on the Sunni side began to run out of ammunition. A skinny young man in a tank top and shorts held only five bullets for his AK-47; another nearby said he had only 30 bullets left.

Lebanese officials said that they had given the army the green light to stop the fighting, and at one point an army unit began using heavy machine guns to fire into the Alawite area in what turned out to be a failed effort to suppress fire from both sides.

DIPLOMATIC CHALLENGE: The new U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, hinted Friday at the immense challenges he faces trying to negotiate an end to that country's civil war amid rapidly escalating violence. Brahimi, a 78-year-old veteran Algerian diplomat and former U.N. envoy to Afghanistan and Iraq, said "extraordinary talent and expertise" will be needed for the crucial task of bringing peace and stability to Syria and promoting human rights there.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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