Dubai: Syrian troops on Friday fought rebels near the compounds of the presidential guards in Damascus, as Nato said that the Syrian government was using Scud missiles.
“I can confirm that we have detected the launch of Scud-type missiles (short-range ballistic missiles),” Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said. “I consider it acts of a desperate regime approaching collapse,” Rasmussen added.
Last week, Nato and the US said more than six missiles had been fired from the Damascus area into northern Syria, an accusation that the Syrian government, led by President Bashar Al Assad, vehemently denied.
“The fact that such missiles are used in Syria emphasises the need for effective defence and protection of our ally Turkey,” Rasmussen said, referring to Nato’s decision in December to deploy the missiles along the Turkish border with Syria.
President Vladimir Putin said, meanwhile, said Russia wants to avoid “chaos” in Syria after any changes that may happen in the country. The opposing sides in the conflict need to reach an agreement to preserve the interests of all ethnic and confessional groups in Syria, Putin told journalists in Brussels after a meeting with top European Union officials.
On ground in Syria, Al Assad’s troops and opposition rebels were fighting in the vicinity of compounds housing the elite presidential guards in the capital, activists said. “The fighting is raging near the compounds of the Republican Guard in the suburban areas of Qudsaya and Hammah,” the Damascus-based activist Haitham Al Abdullah was quoted as saying.
He added that the rebel Syrian Free Army had taken control of a military base in the area of Al Maliha also on the outskirts of Damascus.
Also yesterday, Germany’s defence minister believes rebel forces will achieve victory in Syria soon. Thomas de Maiziere told mass-circulation daily Bild that “there are signs that the opposition will soon achieve a military victory against the regime.” The interview to be published on Saturday also cited him as saying that a foreign military intervention remains “absolutely not up for debate.”
Meanwhile, the main opposition bloc, the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, denounced an Iranian peace initiative to end the 22-month conflict in the country.
“As the free forces of the Syrian people accomplish decisive political and military victories, the regime and its allies keep launching overdue political initiatives,” said the coalition.
Tehran offered at the weekend a peace initiative calling for an end of violence under UN supervision, initiating dialogue between Al Assad’s government and the opposition, creating a transitional government, and holding free elections.
Also yesterday Palestinian refugees streamed back into their camp in Damascus on Friday after a reported deal to keep it out of Syria’s conflict, following fierce clashes earlier this week.
Streets of the Yarmuk camp in the south of the capital were empty of gunmen with the rebel forces or from the pro-regime Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC).
“We returned because we have had enough of being humiliated,” one of them said. “We lost our land (Palestine) but we don’t want to lose our homes and live in tents like our parents.”
The fighting forced about 100,000 of Yarmuk’s 150,000 to flee the camp, many taking refuge in the parks and squares of Damascus, said UNRWA, the relief agency for Palestinian refugees.
Residents were called to attend weekly prayers on Friday at the camp’s Abdul Qader Al Hussaini mosque, which has been cleaned up after a regime air strike last Sunday that killed eight people.
Many of them already returned on Thursday evening, singing traditional Palestinian songs and sweeping away debris from battle-scarred streets inside the camp.