12 Jul 2012

Damascus shelled for the first time in uprising

Syrian forces attack the capital with mortars for the first time since the uprising against President Assad began, as a senior diplomat calls for others to join him in defecting from the regime.

Syrian forces attacked the capital with mortars for the first time since the uprising began against President Bashar al-Assad while Syria's Iraqi amabassador defected calling for others to join him.

The Kfar Souseh neighbourhood of Damascus, a poor agricultural area, was reportedly attacked by syrian troops. The mortars landed in orchards on the outskirts of the city, apparently an attempt to root out rebels taking cover there. The district is a semi-residential area of olive and fruit groves near a major interchange.

Helicopters began flying over the area on Thursday morning before residents heard six or seven mortars hit.

“We can see fire and smoke coming from one of the fields nearby,” anti-government activist Hazem al-Aqad told Reuters.

“People are terrified. Families are getting in their cars and rushing as fast as they can to other areas. About 200 people in my area have left.”

Ambassador defects

Meanwhile, Syria’s ambassador to Iraq, Nawaf al-Fares (see photo, above left), defected to join the revolution against President Assad, the first senior diplomat to quit the embattled government.

“I ask … the members of the military to join the revolution and to defend the country and the citizens … Turn your guns towards the criminals from this regime,” Mr Fares said in a videotaped statement..

He did not spell out his reasons for defecting, but said government forces have been killing civilians during a crackdown on rebels.

A few days earlier, France claimed that a Syrian general close to President Assad defected and was on his way to Paris. Brigadier General Manaf Tlass’s family Syria via Turkey, his family confirmed.

UN peace deal in tatters

The shelling follows talks between Kofi Annan and President Assad on Monday. The UN special envoy categorised the talks as “positive and constructive”.

Pressure was mounting on President Assad, however. Western powers are to submit draft text of a proposal that would give his regime 10 days to implement Mr Annan’s ceasefire plan or face tough new sanctions.