Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat – The death toll in Syria on Thursday reached 72 according to the preliminary figures announced by the Local Coordination Committees, including 23 killed in Aleppo and 6 in Homs. Whilst the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights placed the death toll closer to 180, including 48 al-Assad soldiers.
This comes as the rebel Free Syrian Army [FSA] succeeded in targeting Syrian Republican Guard positions in Damascus governorate, reportedly killing at least 21 cadres. Syrian rebels also claimed to have captured an air defense base, along with a cache of missiles, outside of Damascus. A video posted on YouTube showed dozens of Syrian rebels, dressed in army fatigues, celebrating as black smoke rose from a military installation behind them. A Syrian rebel holding an assault rifle claimed that the assault on the Syrian air defense base, in the Eastern Ghouta area, was carried out by an FSA battalion from the town of Douma. The video could not be immediately verified.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also issued a report claiming that the death toll of the Syrian uprising has exceeded 31,000 over the past 18 months, including 22,257 civilians, 7,578 regime soldiers and 1,187 dissidents, adding that the death toll last month alone reached 4,727.
Thursday saw clashes between the FSA and the Syrian Republican Guards in the town of Qudsaya, outside of Damascus. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights revealed that a number of Syrian Republican Guard cadres had been killed and injured in the attacks, adding that the death toll amongst Syrian Republican Guard officers is expected to rise in the coming days.
The Observatory asserted that the number of Republican Guards killed in Qudsaya, west of Damascus, may rise beyond the 21 confirmed dead, given the ferocity of the violence.
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Director Rami Abdel Rahman said “the rebels likely used a small explosive device, but it was placed near the Republican Guards’ living quarters in Qudsaya.” He added that clashes persisted for some time after the blast.
This attack occurred a day after the Syrian army launched a major offensive on Qudsaya and a neighboring town, the Observatory said.
“The quality of operations staged by the rebels is improving” Observatory director Abdel Rahman said. “This is especially noticeable in Damascus province, which is strategic for both the rebels and the regime because of its proximity to the capital.”
The Observatory also revealed that “violent clashes took place between the regime forces and rebel battlations in the [Damascus] neighborhoods of al-Qadam and al-Asali” adding “these were accompanied by heavy bombing which led to casualties and destroyed some homes.”
As for Aleppo, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights revealed that Syrian forces continued to bombard the neighborhood of Sakhour and Saluhuddin. Syrian state-run TV said that government forces had “cleansed Sakhour of terrorists and mercenaries.”
A senior FSA source, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, asserted that the battle for Aleppo was “balanced”, adding that the FSA had recorded progress in several regions of Syria’s most populous city. He added that the Syrian regime forces were attempting to drive back the Syrian rebels and destroy their lines of communication and coordination.
As for Homs, Syrian warplanes and artillery began to pound the central city on Friday, subjecting the former rebel stronghold to its worst bombardment in months.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said that Friday’s attack is the worst the city has seen in five months. Speaking to The Associated Press via Skype on Friday, a Homs-based activist known as Abu Rami revealed that “around dawn, the regime went crazy and started shelling hysterically” adding “an average of five rockets a minute are falling.” The Syrian activist, who asked to be identified only by his nick-name for fear of regime reprisals, claimed that government forces were firing rockets and heavy mortars at the rebel held neighborhoods of Old Homs, Khaldiya, Qusor and Jouret el-Shayah.