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Clashes in Damascus appear to halt peace talk possibilities

Smoke and fire billow from an explosion in Damascus, Syria, on Wednesday after heavy fighting erupted between rebels and government forces.

Associated Press

Smoke and fire billow from an explosion in Damascus, Syria, on Wednesday after heavy fighting erupted between rebels and government forces.

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Shelling and explosions were heard in Damascus throughout Wednesday during some of the fiercest clashes reported in Syria in months, with government and opposition forces each claiming significant advances.

Smoke hung over parts of the capital, opposition activists said.

The renewed fighting in Damascus appeared to dash the faint hopes of peace talks in the almost 2-year-old conflict. Neither side has agreed on any dialogue, despite conditional offers from representatives of the opposition and the government of President Bashar Assad.

Late Wednesday, it was unclear whether either side had pushed forward or whether the government and rebels had managed to hold their positions in and around Damascus.

Opposition activists said rebel militias had launched coordinated attacks on checkpoints and other government-controlled positions in what some termed a final battle for the capital.

The government media office said the military had inflicted "heavy losses" on "terrorists," its standard term for armed rebels.

Central Damascus has been securely in government hands since late summer.

There was no immediate word on the total number of casualties.

Split shows at Muslim summit: An Islamic summit that opened Wednesday in Cairo showed the multiple divisions within the Muslim and Arab worlds, with conflicting approaches to the Syrian civil war exposing the Sunni-Shiite sectarian fault lines that have torn the region for years.

Egypt's Islamist leader, President Mohammed Morsi, sharply criticized President Bashar Assad's embattled regime in his address to the two-day summit, though he made only an indirect call for the Syrian leader to step down.

The conflict in Syria has been deeply divisive in the Middle East, pitting a largely Sunni opposition against a regime dominated by Assad's Alawite minority, a heterodox offshoot of Shiite Islam. Sunni nations such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are behind the rebels, while Shiite heavyweight Iran is Damascus' closest regional ally.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Clashes in Damascus appear to halt peace talk possibilities 02/06/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 6, 2013 9:38pm]

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