Intense Fighting Reported in Damascus

Opposition fighters battled Syrian government forces in Damascus on Sunday in what residents described as the fiercest fighting yet inside the city limits of the capital.

Numerous residents contacted by Reuters said they could hear loud explosions, persistent gunfire and sirens wailing. Thick black smoke was visible above the Damascus skyline in live internet video links.

“I can’t believe it, it sounds incredibly close. I hear shooting and other stuff, like blasts. I can hear the sounds of ambulances rushing past. I am so afraid. People may die tonight,” said a resident in a district close to the fighting, contacted by telephone.

Activist Samir al-Shami, who spoke to Reuters by Skype from Damascus, said the fighting was under way in the al-Tadamon district in the capital’s south, after a night of sustained battles in the nearby Hajar al-Aswad district.

“There is the sound of heavy gunfire. And there is smoke rising from the area. There are already some wounded and residents are trying to flee the area,” he said, using Skype to show live video images of smoke visible over the skyline.

“There are also armoured vehicles heading towards the southern part of the neighbourhood,” he said.

Like others contacted by Reuters, he described it as the most intense fighting he had heard in the capital.

“This area has had a lot of fighting … The area is kind of a slum. The people who live there are poor. There’s a lot of people and a lot of grassy areas around it so it’s easy for rebels to sneak in and out,” he said.

An explosion hit a security forces bus in Damascus on Sunday and wounded several people, activists said. Residents said they heard a powerful blast, followed by the sirens of ambulances rushing toward Damascus’s southern ring road near the neighbourhood of Midan.

Fighting reached the outskirts of the capital in recent weeks, focusing on poorer areas where anger against the authorities is highest.

The past week saw mortars fired inside the capital for what appeared to be the first time. Clashes have taken place at night with increasing frequency, while intensive battles during the day appear to be a new sign of the seriousness of the conflict.

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