BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) — Syrian forces went house to house kicking down doors in the capital Damascus Monday, searching for any remaining rebel fighters behind the clashes that shook the capital last week before the government appeared to reassert control over contested neighborhoods.
State television has been broadcasting streams of images of neighborhoods “cleansed” of rebels, while activist videos show early morning raids by masses of armed men in fatigues searching house to house and breaking down doors. The men wore sneakers and mismatched military uniforms and baseball caps, suggesting they were militia forces rather than regular army.
Even as the government appeared to be reasserting control of its capital after a weeklong rebel assault, the Arab League offered Syrian President Bashar Assad and his family a “safe exit” if he steps down.
“This request comes from all the … Arab states: Step aside,” said Qatari Prime Minister Hamid bin Jassim Al Thani at an Arab League foreign ministers meeting in Doha, Qatar that concluded at dawn Monday. He urged Syria to form a temporary transitional government to plan for a possible post-Assad era.
The League also promised $100 million for Syrian refugees in neighboring countries and called on the United Nations to set up safe havens for them inside the country. It urged international organizations to cut ties with Assad’s regime.
The Arab League has already suspended Syria’s membership and it is doubtful that Assad will pay much attention to their calls. He ignored a similar request to step down in exchange for asylum by Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki last February.
In his first public statements since a devastating rebel bombing wiped out four of his top security officers last week, Assad told his new army chief of staff Sunday to “continue the armed forces’ pursuit of terrorists.” The Syrian regime refers to the rebels as “terrorists” and maintains many are actually foreigners come to fight a jihad, or holy war, in the country. Late Sunday, Syrian television showed the bodies of men killed in the fighting that it claimed were from neighboring countries.
While the fighting has been winding down in Damascus over the weekend, Syria’s largest city Aleppo has been the focus of rebel assault with a newly formed alliance of opposition forces called the Brigade of Unification announcing Sunday a new operation to take the city. Witnesses reported fighting in neighborhoods on the outskirts of the city.