Assad offered ‘safe exit’ as fighting escalates
Bab Al-Salam: Syrian troops have forced rebels out of two Damascus districts days after they launched a major assault on the capital.
Damascus neighbourhood of Mezzeh was back under the control of government troops on Sunday. In the process, the troops killed at least 20 unarmed men who they claimed were rebel aides.
Also, members of the Syrian Army's Fourth Division under the command of President Bashar al-Assad's brother launched an operation to win back control over Barzeh. During the fighting in the northern Damascus district, many young men were killed, witnesses and activists said.
Government forces have launched a determined counter-offensive since rebels brought their battle to overthrow Assad to the capital and killed four of the President's closest associates in a bomb attack last Wednesday, reports a news agency.
In a further escalation of a conflict rapidly becoming a civil war, fighting raged around the intelligence headquarters in Syria's biggest city, Aleppo, and in Deir al-Zor in the east.
Syrian forces regained control of one of two border crossings seized by rebels on the frontier with Iraq, Iraqi officials said, but rebels said they had captured a third border crossing with Turkey: Bab al-Salam, north of Aleppo.
"Seizing the border crossings does not have strategic importance but it has a psychological impact because it demoralises Assad's force," a senior Syrian Army defector in Turkey, Staff Brigadier Faiz Amr, told a news agency by phone.
"It's a show of progress for the revolutionaries, despite the superior firepower of Assad's troops."
Rebels also seized an Army infantry school in the town of Musalmiyeh, 16 km (10 miles) north of Aleppo, and captured several loyalist officers, while others defected, a senior military defector in Turkey and rebel sources inside Syria said.
"This is of big strategic and symbolic importance. The school has ammunition depots and armoured formations and it protects the northern gate to Aleppo," Brigadier General Mustafa al-Sheikh told the agency by phone from the town of Apayden on the Turkish border.
Meanwhile, Arab countries early Monday called on Assad to swiftly give up power.
Arab League foreign ministers met in Doha and issued a joint statement later, saying Assad should "renounce power". The promised the Syrian President and his family "a safe exit".
"There is agreement on the need for the rapid resignation of President Bashar al-Assad," Qatar's Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani said.
The Arab League further urged Syrian rebels and the opposition to put together a transitional government of national unity along with the "de facto national authority". However, the statement did not clarify who that authority is.
The Arab nations further said an extraordinary meeting of the UN General Assembly should be convened to discuss creating "security zones" and "humanitarian corridors" in Syria.
On Sunday, the Obama administration said that it would "hold accountable" any Syrian official involved in the release or use of the country's chemical weapons.
(With Agency inputs)