BEIRUT Aug 23 Clashes broke out in Damascus on
Thursday as Syrian government forces fired mortar rounds on
rebel positions, activists said, in what they described as some
of the heaviest fighting in the capital this month.
The violence coincided with the departure from the country
of United Nations monitors, whose mandate expired and was not
renewed due to deteriorating conditions that have dragged Syria
into civil war.
The head of the U.N. mission, Babacar Gaye, was expected to
leave on Thursday. Some monitors left on Wednesday and more are
expected to follow the team leader on Thursday.
Government forces fired mortar rounds from the Qasioun
mountain overlooking Damascus, activists said, and southern
suburbs echoed with the sound of gunfights between the army and
rebels who have been struggling to topple President Bashar
al-Assad for more than 17 months.
"For about an hour we heard explosions and gunfire. It is
not as bad as yesterday yet but tensions are really high. I
think you could probably hear the echo of shelling or clashes
from most parts of Damascus," said opposition activist Samir
al-Shami, who spoke to Reuters by Skype.
He and other activists said the bombardment and fighting
seemed to be concentrated on southern districts of Damascus,
where rebels have been able to slip in from rebellious suburbs
near the capital.
Assad's forces stormed the south-eastern district of Kafr
Souseh early on Thursday and were making arrests, another
Hundreds of residents have been displaced due to fighting in
the city, and many have taken shelter in mosques and schools in
calmer areas. But some of those displaced are being asked to
leave their places of refuge, said an activist who gave his name
only as Tareq, of the Revolution Leadership Council of Damascus.
"Assad's regime warned people staying in schools they have
to evacuate within a few days, they are saying it is because
they have to prepare for the coming school year," he said.
"Thousands of displacees are worried because they have a
lack of alternatives for a place to stay."