Battles in Damascus expand to suburbs

BEIRUT — Clashes between Syrian insurgents and loyalist troops in Damascus raged for a second day on Thursday and spread to the suburbs and other areas, activist groups reported. Fighting also erupted in the large Palestinian refugee neighborhood of Yarmouk on the capital’s southern outskirts, which had already been drawn into the civil war at least twice in the past few months.

The expanded mayhem, described as some of the worst fighting to afflict Damascus in months, offered further indication that any hope for a diplomatic resolution to the nearly 2-year-old conflict has all but evaporated. Those hopes were resurrected last week when the leader of Syria’s largest political opposition group suggested holding talks with President Bashar Assad’s government.

Syria’s official news agency, SANA, characterized the clashes on Thursday as terrorist assaults. It said that government forces in at least a dozen suburbs had vanquished or killed many attackers, including some who were disguised as women and others who were caught with antiaircraft weapons.


But the scope of the clashes described in the SANA dispatch seemed to corroborate that the fighting had intensified close to the center of government power in Syria, forcing the military to go back into areas it had repeatedly sought to secure.

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Among the affected suburbs, for example, was Daraya, ­famous as an early hotbed of antigovernment protest and the site of one of the war’s deadliest episodes back in August, when the Syrian military stormed Daraya in what it called a “cleansing” operation that left hundreds dead.

The Local Coordination Committees, an anti-Assad network inside Syria, reported fierce clashes between government forces and fighters of the Free Syrian Army at an entrance to Yarmouk, a longtime Palestinian refugee encampment south of Damascus that is politically delicate.

Both Assad and his opponents have sought the allegiance of the tens of thousands of Palestinians in Syria who were displaced decades ago by the Arab-Israeli conflict. Yarmouk was convulsed by fighting in December, when insurgents temporarily seized control, and again in early January.

Anti-Assad activist groups also reported an explosion near Hama that killed at least 20 government defense workers.