Syrian government forces go on attack on first day of year

Tue Jan 1, 2013 10:41am EST
 

By Oliver Holmes

BEIRUT (Reuters) - 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 on New Year's Day on Tuesday.

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 him.

The air force pounded Damascus's eastern suburbs on Tuesday and rebel-held areas of Aleppo, the second city and commercial 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 center, soldiers manning checkpoints fired celebratory gunfire at midnight although the streets were largely deserted.

"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.   Continued...

 
Residents run along a street after an air strike by a fighter jet loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Aleppo's al-Marja district December 31, 2012. REUTERS/Muzaffar Salman