There have been violent clashes between government troops and rebel forces across Syria.
The heaviest fighting has been taking place in the outskirts of the Syrian capital of Damascus. Government soldiers have set up checkpoints along the roads to towns including Harasta, Douma and Sakba – all within 15 km of the Capital. Convoys of tanks have been seen advancing towards rebel held areas, and intermittent gunfire can be heard.
Regime forces seem determined to bring the suburbs, which have fallen in and out of rebel hands over the last few weeks, back under complete control.
The “unprecedented offensive” comes after clashes between the Syrian army and activists on Sunday as near as four kilometres to the capital.
There have been reports of further violent clashes elsewhere in the country. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has reported that nine civilians were killed as security forces stormed Homs in central Syria, including a young girl hit by gunfire from a checkpoint.
Four civilians have been killed in the Qussur district, and two more have been hit by sniper and machine-gun fire in Baba Amro. A young man was also shot dead in Qusseir, in Homs province.
It also reported that unidentified assailants killed a doctor in Shammas, also in Homs – while the state news agency said he was shot dead by a “terrorist group.”
Six members of Syria’s security forces and four civilians were killed this morning after an attack on a government transport. “Dissident soldiers on Monday attacked a minibus carrying six security officers on their way to make arrests in Hirak, killing all of the passengers,” said the Observatory. Two tanks then entered the town and opened fire, killing three civilians, the group said.
The group also reported the killing of a civilian by indiscriminate fire in Daraa, near the border with Jordan.
Meanwhile, the SANA news agency reported that a “terrorist group” attacked a gas pipeline in the central province of Homs, near the border with Lebanon.
Fighting across Syria over the weekend has been described by rebels as some of the worst since the uprising began, with 80 people killed across the country on Sunday alone.
Today, the head of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the world’s largest Muslim body, urged the international community to help to end the violence.
“I renew my calls to the international community, especially the UN Security Council, to take up its responsibilities in protecting civilians and taking all measures to end bloodshed in Syria,” said Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu.
It has been reported that French minister for foreign affairs, Alain Juppe, is to go to the UN to press the Security Council on the issue.
The country has been engulfed by protests since March last year. The United Nations estimates that over 5,400 people have been killed in the ensuing government crackdown.