Fee Syrian Army fighters inspect the damage after an air
strike by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces at the
Hammouriyeh area in Ghouta east of Damascus. REUTERS/Omar
Syrian rebels say they have seized the headquarters of an
army battalion near the southern gate of Damascus, the nearest
military base to the capital reported to have fallen to
opposition fighters in a 20-month revolt.
Activists said the Syrian army had attacked southern
districts of Damascus with shelling and rocket fire all day
to try to stop the rebels seizing the base, in some of the
heaviest bombardment of the capital.
"Multiple rocket launchers are just making huge, random
destruction," said Rami al-Sayyed of the Syrian Media Centre,
an opposition organisation monitoring the crackdown by
President Bashar al-Assad's forces.
The Islamist rebel groups Ansar al-Islam and Jund Allah
Brigades said in a statement that they had taken the Air
Defence Battalion base near Hajar al-Aswad after four days of
The district had been home to thousands of refugees from the
Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. These were at the forefront
of the movement against Assad's autocratic rule at the
beginning of a revolt that has now turned into a civil war,
in which activists say 38,000 people have been killed.
Activists said all the residents had fled under the
Video footage showed rebels walking through the site, past
destroyed anti-aircraft guns, and one commander saying on a
walkie-talkie: "We have completely seized the compound."
Louay al-Dimashki, an opposition activist who said he had
documented the fall of the base on video, said the rebels had
targeted the compound with mortars then attacked in small
groups, killing 14 loyalist troops and taking 35 prisoner.
"The fighters are taking whatever ammunition and weapons they
can. They cannot hold on to the base because the regime will
hit them from the air," Dimashki said by phone.
Independent verification of the reports was not possible
because Syria severely restricts the access of foreign media.
Rebels have captured several army positions in outlying
regions in the last week, including a Special Forces base
near the northern city of Aleppo and a small military airport
in the east, on the border with Iraq.
Inside Damascus, a roadside bomb hit a minibus along a route
used by security forces and pro-government media, activists
said. The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said
three people had been killed and at least 10 wounded.
Under pressure from foreign states keen to promote a viable
and responsible alternative to Assad, Syria's fractious
opposition formed a broader coalition group last week, led by
moderate Sunni Muslim preacher Mouaz Alkhatib.
The Syrian National Coalition was promptly recognised by
France as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian
EU foreign ministers said on Monday they considered the group
to be "legitimate representatives" of the Syrian people,
stopping just short of the full recognition offered by
A group of Islamist fighters in Syria's Aleppo province, many
of whom are well-known members of powerful rebel units in the
area, said on Monday they rejected the umbrella group and
planned to establish an Islamic state in Syria.
Members of Islamist groups listed in a YouTube video as
supporters of the plan told Reuters they had nothing to do
with the announcement, though they acknowledged that some
members of their groups had appeared in the video.
This could suggest cracks in Islamist rebel ranks over how to
respond to growing efforts to unify rebel groups and
potentially sideline more radical Islamist elements.
The expanding conflict has threatened to suck in Syria's
neighbours, especially Turkey in the north.
Syrian mortar rounds have fallen in Turkey, Lebanon and
Israel as rebels hug the borders looking for safety, and
Turkey's army is stationing soldiers in recently dug trenches
along the border.