Thursday, May 24, 2018

Syrian troops push back in fight on Damascus edges

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Syrian forces pushed dissident troops back from the edge of Damascus in heavy fighting Monday, escalating efforts to take back control of the capital's eastern doorstep ahead of U.N. talks over a draft resolution demanding that President Bashar Assad step aside.

Gunfire and the boom of shelling rang out in several suburbs on Damascus' outskirts that have come under the domination of antiregime fighters. Earlier, troops retook two of the districts closest to Damascus, Ein Tarma and Kfar Batna, said Rami Abdul-Rahman, the London-based head of the Syrian Human Rights Observatory, which tracks violence through contacts on the ground.

As the bloodshed increased, with activists reporting more than 40 civilians killed Monday, Western and Arab countries stepped up pressure on Assad's ally Russia to overcome its opposition to the resolution.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the British and French foreign ministers were heading to New York to push for backing of the measure during talks today at the United Nations.

"The status quo is unsustainable," Clinton said, saying Assad was preventing a peaceful transition and warning that the resulting instability could "spill over throughout the region."

The draft resolution demands that Assad halt the crackdown and implement an Arab peace plan that calls for him to hand over power to a vice president and allow creation of a unity government, with elections to follow.

If Assad fails to comply within 15 days, the council would consider "further measures," a reference to a possible move to impose economic or other sanctions.

Russia said Monday it was trying to put together negotiations in Moscow between Damascus and the opposition. It said Assad's government has agreed to participate; the opposition has in the past rejected any negotiations unless violence stops.

The United Nations estimated several weeks ago that more than 5,400 people have been killed in Syria's crackdown on the uprising against Assad's rule, which began in March. It has been unable to update the figure, and more than 200 people have been killed in the past five days alone, according to activists' reports.

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