Clashes rock Damascus as G8 urges political transition

AFP , Sunday 20 May 2012

As crackdown continues on anti-regime protests in Syria, G8 powers call for a Syrian-led inclusive political transition to a democratic and pluralist political system

A member of the Free Syrian Army celebrates after defeating government troops in Rasten. (Photo: Reuters)

Fierce fighting between regime troops and armed rebels rocked parts of Damascus overnight, monitors said on Sunday, as the G8 called for a "political transition" to end relentless violence sweeping Syria.

The clashes in the Syrian capital came hours after a suicide bomber detonated a car bomb in Deir Ezzor, eastern Syria's biggest city, killing nine people and adding urgency to the G8 calls for all sides to adhere to a UN-brokered truce.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fighting erupted during the night in the Kafr Sousa district of south Damascus but said there were no immediate reports of casualties.

The Local Coordination Committees, an anti-regime network of activists on the ground in Syria, said that Kafr Sousa saw the "arrival of huge reinforcements" of regime troops in the wake of the fighting.

Clashes also broke out in other parts of southern Damascus, the Britain-based Observatory said, adding that gunfire had during the night echoed across the city centre.

"Gunfire was heard in Abbasiyyin Square, and Baghdad and Thawra streets," said the watchdog, referring to high-security areas of the city.

Also overnight, regime forces shelled the outskirts of Douma, a bastion of anti-regime sentiment located just north of Damascus, the Observatory said.

On Saturday, 23 people were killed in violence across Syria, including those who died in the Deir Ezzor suicide blast, according to the Observatory.

The watchdog said the blast occurred on a road housing a military and air force intelligence headquarters and a military hospital, while state television said a "terrorist suicide bomber" used 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds) of explosives in the attack on Deir Ezzor's Ghazi Ayyash neighbourhood.

There was no claim of responsibility for the bombing but, as typically happens in such cases, the opposition blamed it on the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

The government repeatedly blames bomb attacks on "armed terrorist groups" and Al-Qaeda.

More than 12,000 people, the majority of them civilians, have died in Syria since an anti-regime revolt broke out in March last year, according to the Observatory.

The G8 -- which includes long-time Syrian-ally Russia -- called on Saturday for a "Syrian-led, inclusive political transition leading to a democratic, plural political system."

The group, huddled at Camp David, outside Washington, also called on the Syrian government and all parties to "immediately and fully adhere" to an internationally-backed plan to end violence.

"We remain appalled by the loss of life, humanitarian crisis, and serious and widespread human rights abuses in Syria," a joint statement said.

"The Syrian government and all parties must immediately and fully adhere to commitments to implement the six-point plan of UN and Arab League Joint Special Envoy... Kofi Annan."

That, they said, includes "immediately ceasing all violence."

But Russia, a key ally of Syria, said there could be no regime change through force.

"One has to give an opportunity to the Syrians to sort out their affairs themselves," the Kremlin's Africa envoy, Mikhail Margelov told reporters in Washington.

"You cannot use an axe to shear your way through the Syrian crisis, you have to use a pair of pincers to somehow sort it out."

What started out as a popular uprising has over time developed into an increasingly militarised revolt, after Assad's regime used force to crack down on peaceful protests.

With the killings unabated, Annan plans to return to Damascus soon to further efforts to find a peaceful solution but a date has yet to be announced.

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