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Heavy Fighting Reported In Damascus

March 19, 2012

Fighting between rebels and government forces has been taking place in the Syrian capital, Damascus.

Activists were quoted as saying that the clashes were some of the heaviest since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's regime began just over one year ago.

The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, meanwhile, has warned that the humanitarian situation in Syria is likely to get worse.

The clashes between government forces and rebels from the Free Syrian Army occurred in Damascus's Al-Mezze district, where residents say several security installations are located.

The reports said the sound of heavy machine-gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades was heard in Al-Mezze.

The fighting lasted for at least two hours before ending early in the morning of March 19.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights cited its activists in Damascus as saying that 18 government soldiers were wounded in the fighting.

The clashes came after bomb explosions in Damascus and Aleppo, Syria's second-largest city, reportedly killed some 30 people over the weekend.

In Aleppo on March 18, a car bomb killed at least two people and injured some 30 others.

A day earlier, twin blasts killed 27 people in Damascus and wounded nearly 100.

The government blames "terrorists" for the bombing, but the opposition has alleged that the regime itself may be carrying them out to discredit the uprising.

International Cease-Fire Efforts

The United Nations says more than 8,000 people have been killed in the yearlong Syrian conflict. Another 30,000 people have fled the country, and 200,000 have been internally displaced, according to the UN.

The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Jakob Kellenberger, met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on March 19 for talks on the humanitarian crisis in Syria.

Speaking at the start of the talks, Kellenberger warned that the situation could probably get worse and that "urgent measures" were needed.

"Our assessment is, unfortunately, that the humanitarian situation [in Syria] is most likely to deteriorate," he said. "As you may know, we are the only organization, together with the Syrian Red Crescent, being active in the field."

The ICRC has been pushing for daily, two-hour cease-fires between government forces and rebels to allow for relief delivery and the evacuation of the wounded.

After the talks,a spokesman for the ICRC said Lavrov had given "positive indications" of support for the ICRC's proposals.

Russia is a longtime Syrian regime ally and is seen as one of the few countries left with any leverage over Assad's regime.

Russia -- along with China -- has twice blocked passage of a UN Security Council draft resolution that would have condemned Assad's crackdown on his opponents.

In another development, a team of experts dispatched by Kofi Annan, the joint UN-Arab league special envoy on Syria, arrived in the country on March 19 to discuss a possible cease-fire and an international monitoring mission.

A spokesman for Annan, the former UN secretary-general, said the five-person mission will stay in Syria "as long as they are making progress" on implementing Annan's proposals to end the bloodshed.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP, and dpa



Copyright (c) 2012. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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