Syrian Forces Attack Rebel Stronghold Near Palace


BEIRUT, Lebanon — A large armored contingent of Syria’s elite Republican Guard stormed a western Damascus suburb near the presidential palace on Friday, residents and antigovernment activists said, bringing intense combat with insurgents unusually close to the doorstep of the embattled Syrian leadership.

Hundreds of residents fled the fighting, which followed days of shelling by government forces after a three-month truce collapsed in the area. Home to hundreds of Guard members and their families, the suburb extends to within a mile of the palace, the residence of President Bashar al-Assad, which overlooks the capital.

The government and its armed opponents blamed one another, each claiming that residents of the neighborhood, Qudsaya, had requested protection from the other side.

“I feel there is no secure district or suburb in the whole of Damascus,” a 40-year-old Qudsaya resident, who gave only a nickname, Abu Mohammed, said in an interview. “We can see the Republican Palace, and I am sure that Bashar al-Assad is hearing his elite forces attack us. He will not feel happy and sleep well if the fighting is next to his palace.”

On the other side of the capital, in the suburb of East Ghouta, rebels celebrated their apparent downing of a helicopter, documented in dramatic videos of the craft losing its rotors, spinning to earth and exploding, and jubilant young men dragging its tail section behind a pickup truck. Rebels also claimed to have seized an air defense base in the area earlier in the week, in videos that showed beaming fighters posing with antiquated surface-to-air missiles amid smoldering buildings and army vehicles, insulting Mr. Assad and shouting, “God willing, we’re coming for you!”

Taken together, the surge of military activity portrayed a government forced to exert itself on many fronts to manage a conflict that shows no signs of abating.

The fighting around Damascus came as antigovernment activists reported a renewal of fierce army shelling of Homs, the central city that has long been a trouble spot for Mr. Assad. The shelling demonstrated that the government is still struggling to control the city, which it had declared insurgent-free eight months ago after an extended siege.

The government’s own accounts, issued Friday, of confiscating large amounts of heavy weapons and explosives from Qudsaya and nearby areas suggested how deeply the rebellion had penetrated even into a Republican Guard stronghold. And fears of regional repercussions continued to build as Turkish artillery hit Syria for a third consecutive day after a Syrian mortar killed five Turkish civilians on Wednesday.


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