Army fights defectors near Damascus: Residents

The Arab League decided to send its Secretary-General to Damascus to push for reforms.

Updated: Aug 29, 2011, 00:16 AM IST

Amman: Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad fought gun battles overnight near a northeast Damascus suburb with army defectors who had refused to shoot at a pro-democracy protest, residents said on Sunday.

Five months into a popular uprising, Assad is under pressure from street protests, galvanized by the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and from Arab foreign ministers who told Syria early on Sunday to work to end bloodshed "before it is too late".

The Arab League decided to send its Secretary-General to Damascus to push for reforms. Turkey`s president said he had lost confidence in Syria.

Dozens of soldiers defected and fled into al-Ghouta, an area of orchards and farmland, after pro-Assad forces fired at a large crowd of demonstrators near the Damascus suburb of Harasta to prevent them from marching on the capital, residents said.

"The army has been firing heavy machineguns throughout the night at al-Ghouta and they were being met with response from smaller rifles," a resident of Harasta told Reuters by phone.

Dozens of soldiers defected and fled into al-Ghouta, an area of orchards and farmland, after pro-Assad forces fired at a large crowd of demonstrators near the Damascus suburb of Harasta to prevent them from marching on the capital, residents said.

"The army has been firing heavy machineguns throughout the night at al-Ghouta and they were being met with response from smaller rifles," a resident of Harasta told Reuters by phone.