Beirut: Bullets and shrapnel shells smashed into homes in the Syrian capital of Damascus as troops battled rebels in the streets, a show of boldness for rebels taking their fight against President Bashar Assad to the centre of his power.
For nearly 12 hours of fighting that lasted into the early hours of Saturday, rebels armed mainly with assault rifles fought Syrian forces in the heaviest fighting in the Assad stronghold since the 15-month-old uprising began.
UN observers said rebels fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the local power plant, damaging parts of it and reducing six buses to charred shells, according to video the observers took of the scene.
Syrian forces showed the regime's willingness to unleash such firepower in the capital: At least three tank shells slammed into residential areas in the central Damascus neighbourhood of Qaboun, an activist said. Intense exchanges of assault-rifle fire marked the clash, according to residents and amateur video posted online.
At least 52 civilians were killed around the country outside Damascus yesterday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based activist group. Among them were 20, including nine women and children, who died in heavy, pre-dawn shelling in the southern city of Daraa, where the uprising against Assad began in March 2011.
Six children were among 10 killed by a shell that exploded in a house they took cover in during fierce fighting in the coastal region of Latakia, the group said.
The group's figures could not be independently confirmed. In a Daraa mosque, a father stood over his son killed in the shelling, swaddled in a blanket in a hooded sweater, amateur video showed. "I will become a suicide bomber!" the father shouted in grief.
Another video showed tens of thousands of Daraa residents burying their slain victims later yesterday singing, dancing and parading the dead in coffins around a large square and giving the mass funeral the appearance of a mass party.
The Damascus violence was a dramatic shift; the capital has been relatively quiet compared with other Syrian cities throughout the uprising. Damascus and the northern city of Aleppo, the country's largest, are under the firm grip of security forces.
The rebels' brazenness in the Damascus districts underscored deep-seated Sunni anger against the regime, with residents risking their safety, and potentially their lives to shelter the fighters. Residents burned tires to block the advance of Syrian troops, sending plumes of smoke into the air, amateur video showed.
First Published: Sunday, June 10, 2012, 14:35