Monday, January 30, 2012

Russia seeks to slow UN action on Syria; body count mounts

Demonstrators hold a sign as they gather during a protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and Russia in Kafranbel, near Idlib January 29, 2012. The sign reads "Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, display tanks, planes, bombs, vetos for sale". (Reuters Pictures)
Street battles continue around Damascus as troops regain neighborhoods captured by rebels; Russian deputy FM: Moscow wants more time to study Arab League plan, says draft resolution is unacceptable in its current form.
(Reuters) Russia sought to avert a swift UN Security Council vote on a Western-Arab resolution on Syria as street battles continued to rage on the doorstep of Damascus Monday.

On the ground, Syrian President Bashar Assad's troops sought to consolidate their grip on suburbs rebel fighters had taken only a few miles from the center of the regime's power.

Activists and residents said Syrian troops now had control of Hamouriyeh, one of a cluster of districts where they have used armored vehicles and artillery to beat back rebels who came as close as eight km (five miles) to Damascus.

An activist said the Free Syrian Army - a force of military defectors with links to Syria's divided political opposition - mounted scattered attacks on government troops who advanced through the district of Saqba, held by rebels just days ago.

"Street fighting has been raging since dawn," he said, adding tanks were moving through a central avenue of the neighborhood. "The sound of gunfire is everywhere."

The rebels said at least 15 people had been killed as they pulled back in Saqba and Kfar Batna. Activists have claimed a death toll of several dozen in three days of fighting in the districts, which have seen repeated protests against Assad's rule and crackdowns by troops on the 10-month-old uprising.