Beirut: Government forces and rebels battled in the suburbs of Damascus and elsewhere in Syria on Tuesday as the first group of Russian citizens were evacuated from the country to escape nearly two years of conflict.
Fighter jets launched strikes on the town of Douma, northeast of Damascus, and overflew parts of Eastern Guta region, home to some of the rebel Free Syrian Army’s fiercest and best-organised groups, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The army, as part of its campaign to suppress the insurgency near Damascus once and for all, used tanks to pound the towns of Daraya and Moadamiyat Al Sham, southwest of the capital, and Yalda and Beit Sahem, just to the city’s south.
Meanwhile, a pro-regime newspaper made a rare, open admission of the air force’s use of strikes in Damascus province. “The Syrian army has continued to chase armed men from their lairs, in battles using all kinds of weapons, including artillery and air power,” said Al Watan.
Russia is sending two planes to Lebanon to start evacuating its citizens from Syria, the strongest sign yet that President Bashar Al Assad’s most important international ally has serious doubts about his ability to cling to power.
Four buses carrying Russian citizens escaping the Syrian civil war have crossed into Lebanon. A Russian embassy official traveling with the group on Tuesday says about 80 people, mostly women and children, are on the buses. Several men also have been seen in the first group of Russian citizens being evacuated from Syria. Russia sent two planes to Beirut that will take the group home later. They also said thousands more could follow — many of them Russian women married to Syrians — and later evacuations could be by both air and sea.
On Monday, a suicide car bombing in central Syria killed at least 30 people, the watchdog said, also reporting a powerful blast in Damascus, as the Arab League said UN efforts to end the conflict had failed to bring even a “glimmer” of hope.
The United Nations said it would conduct a major humanitarian operation in the war-torn country, with its mission to Syria describing the need for it as “enormous”, having found people in dire need of medical and alimentary aid.
The Arab League chief Nabeel Al Arabi said the mission of the international peace envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, had so far not even “yielded a glimmer of hope” to end the 22-month conflict.
The head of the 22-member bloc urged the Arab leaders to call “the UN Security Council for an immediate meeting and to issue a resolution enforcing a ceasefire to stop the bloodbath”.
He also called for an “international monitoring force to make sure that fighting has stopped”.
Martin Nesirky, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said a team from seven humanitarian agencies visited the city of Homs and on Monday morning crossed conflict lines into Talbiyeh.
“It has to be a big UN humanitarian operation in Syria. That is what the people expect of this mission,” said John Ging, director of operations for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, who headed the team.