Fierce fighting in Syria; ministry official killed
Beirut (Lebanon): Gunmen killed a government official in a Damascus restaurant, Syrian state media and activists reported on Friday as regime troops and rebels fought fierce battles near the Lebanese border, leaving 18 people dead in Syria's third largest city of Homs.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the government official, Ali Ballan, was gunned down late yesterday in Mazzeh, a western neighbourhood of the Syrian capital. Ballan was head of public relations at the Ministry of Social Affairs and a member of Syria's relief agency, the Observatory said.
The state-run SANA news agency said "terrorists" opened fire on Ballan while he was dining at the restaurant, killing him instantly. The government refers to opposition fighters as terrorists, denying there is an insurgency against President Bashar Assad's regime.
Since Syria's crisis began two years ago, a number of government and security officials, as well as regime supporters, have been assassinated in the capital, Damascus.
Heavy fighting was reported near the contested town of Qusair in the central Syrian province of Homs, along the Lebanese border. Eighteen people were killed today in the shelling of Deir Baalba district on the eastern edge of the city of Homs, the Observatory said.
The border region in Homs is strategic because it also links Damascus with the coastal enclave that is the heartland of Assad's minority Alawite sect, a Shiite offshoot. The coast also is home to the country's two main seaports, Latakia and Tartus. Assad's regime is dominated by his Alawites while the rebels are mostly from the country's Sunni majority.
The Local Coordination Committees, another activist group, said Syrian army warplanes today bombarded the area around Qusair.
Activist groups also reported heavy clashes in Damascus's southern suburb of Daraya, which the regime has been trying to recapture for months. They also reported clashes in Aleppo, Idlib and Raqqa in the north and in the southern province of Daraa, where the uprising against Assad began.