Government war planes bombed opposition-held areas of Syria
and President Bashar al-Assad's forces and rebels fought on
the outskirts of the capital Damascus as the new year
A year ago, many diplomats and analysts predicted Assad would
leave power in 2012. But despite international pressure and
rebel gains, he has proved resilient.
His inner circle remains largely intact and retains control
of the armed forces, even if it relies on air strikes and
artillery power to hold back the rebels fighting to overthrow
The air force pounded Damascus's eastern suburbs on Tuesday
(local time) and rebel-held areas of Aleppo, the second city
and commerical capital, as well as several rural towns and
villages, opposition activists said.
Opposition video posted on the Internet showed plumes of grey
smoke rising in Irbin, in the east of Damascus.
Residents of the capital began the new year to the boom of
artillery hitting southern and eastern outskirts, which form
a rebel-held arc around the capital. The heart of the city is
still firmly under government control.
In the city centre, soldiers manning checkpoints fired
celebratory gunfire at midnight although the streets were
"How can they celebrate? There is no 'Happy New Year'," Moaz
al-Shami, an opposition activist who lives in central Mezzeh
district, said over Skype.
He said rebel fighters attacked one checkpoint in Berzeh
district on Tuesday morning. Opposition groups said mortar
bombs hit the southwest suburb of Daraya, which the army
attacked on Monday to retake it from rebels.
An estimated 45,000 people have been killed in the conflict,
which started in early 2011 with peaceful protests demanding
democratic reforms but turned into an armed uprising after
months of attacks on protesters by security forces.
A resident of the central city of Homs said artilelry
shelling had smacked into its Old City on Tuesday.
Homs lies on the north-south highway and parts of the ancient
city have been levelled during months of clashes. Government
forces ousted rebels from Homs early last year but militants
have slowly crept back in.
"The Old City is under siege. There is shelling from all
sides," said the resident, who asked to remain anonymous.
A video posted on YouTube showed the bodies of three boys who
activists said were arrested at a government checkpoint on
their way home from school in Damascus' Jobar suburb on
One of the boys, who appear to have barely reached
adolescence, has his hands tied behind his back. Another had
a large open wound on his throat.
Reuters could not independently verify the reports and the
The opposition-linked Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a
British-based monitoring group, reported 160 people killed on
the final day of 2012, including at least 37 government
The civil war in Syria is the longest and deadliest of the
conflicts that rose out of the uprisings that have swept
through the Arab world over the past two years.
Many Sunni Muslims, the majority in Syria, back the
rebellion, while Assad, a member of the Shi'ite-derived
Alawite minority sect, is backed by some minorities who fear
revenge if he falls. His family has ruled Syria since his
father seized power in a coup 42 years ago.
Assad's forces now rely more on air strikes and artillery
bombardment rather than infantry. Residential areas where
rebels are based have been targeted, killing many civilians.
Rebels have taken swathes of the northern mountains and
eastern desert but have struggled to hold cities, saying they
are defenceless against Assad's Soviet-equipped air force.
Diplomatic efforts to end the war have failed, with the
rebels refusing to negotiate unless Assad leaves power and
the president pledging to fight until death. Western and Arab
states have called for him to go. He is backed by Russia and
In the last days of 2012, international mediator Lakhdar
Brahimi called on countries to push the sides to talk, saying
Syria faced a choice of "hell or the political process".
One Damascus resident, who asked not to be identified for
security reasons, said the usual New Year's Eve crowds were
absent from the increasingly isolated capital.
"There was hardly anyone on the streets, no cars, no
pedestrians. Most restaurants, cafes and bars were empty,"
Some young people gathered at three bars in the old city.
"There was music but nobody was dancing. They just sat there
with a drink in their hands and smoking. I don't think I saw
one person smile," she said.
The midnight gunfire caused alarm.
"It was very scary. No one knew what was going on. People got
very nervous and started making phone calls. But then I
discovered that at least on my street, the gunfire was