Beirut, London, Asharq Al-Awsat-A high ranking source in the Free Syrian Army [FSA] has denied that opposition fighters yesterday launched a battle to liberate Damascus, despite the clashes in several districts of the capital .
The source told Asharq Al-Awsat that the operation launched by the FSA was “aimed at testing the regime’s strength and checking the extent of its deployment and ability to repel the revolutionaries’ attack.” It added that this operation “falls within the framework of the preparatory measures for storming and controlling the capital.” In other news, the Syrian government continues to ignore an offer for talks with the government, while fears of increasing involvement in the struggle by religious militants grows.
The offer for talks was issued by Moaz Al-Khatib, the head of the umbrella group that coordinates the Syrian opposition, the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces. Mr. Al-Khatib met with the foreign ministers of Iran and Russia, both states that have backed the Syrian government diplomatically, at a security conference in Munich, Germany, last week, where he made his offer.
He said that the negotiations could begin only if the Syrian government released the 160,000 prisoners he claimed it was holding. The plan was welcomed by the Arab League and the US, but so far there has been no official response from Assad’s government. Though the Syrian government has itself said that it seeks a dialogue to resolve the fighting tearing the country, it insists that there should be no preconditions.
Al-Khatib, under pressure from colleagues in the opposition to disown his offer, warned on Thursday that if the government does not begin by releasing the female prisoners by Sunday the deal would be withdrawn.
The government’s own reconciliation plan was outlined by President Assad in a speech at Damascus Opera House on Sunday.
It was rejected by the opposition, who have maintained that Assad step down before any talks could begin since the beginning of the uprising.
Within Syria itself, the most intense fighting seen in Damascus in months has been raging in Jobar and a strategic junction linking the southern suburbs, which have a heavy opposition presence, with the rest of the city. Spokespeople for the rebels and the government both claimed to be making progress in the battle, which began in earnest on Wednesday. Local residents told foreign journalists that the Syrian army was attempting to seal off the city, and was making heavy use of mortars and artillery in an attempt to beat the rebels back.
One opposition activist told the AFP that the rebels had launched their attack as a counteroffensive against government attempts to recapture the suburb of Daraya.
Elsewhere within the country, the increasing involvement of radical religious militant groups in the fighting was on display in the city of Tadmur central Syria. Two suicide car bombers launched a coordinated strike against a military intelligence facility, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights “a strong explosion shook the city as a result of targeting the military intelligence branch and state security branch in the city.” It added that “the preliminary information indicates that the explosion resulted from two car bombs, which resulted in deaths and injuries in the intelligence ranks, and was then followed by extensive security deployment.” This follows claims from the outgoing US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that some Syrian opposition forces had been in contact with what remains of the leadership of Al-Qaeda on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.