* Army shelling around capital kills at least 10-activists
* Car bomb in Homs kills 15 and wounds 24-SANA
* Army, rebels struggling for advantage in Syrian capital
By Erika Solomon
BEIRUT, Dec 2 Syrian army forces pounded
rebel-held suburbs around Damascus with fighter jets and rockets
on Sunday, activists said, killing at least ten and wounding
dozens in an offensive to stop rebels closing in on the capital.
Rebels planned to push into the city centre from their
strongholds on the outskirts and fighting has been fierce. The
army sent reinforcements after a week of rebel advances,
including the capture of two military bases near the capital.
Activists said the heavy rocket attacks on Sunday killed at
least ten in the town of Deir al-Asafir, 12 km east of Damascus.
Video published by activists from the town showed at least five
bodies, one of them a young boy and one an elderly man. The
other bodies were wrapped in blood spattered white sheets.
Another video showed smoke rising over the skyline and some
buildings in flames. Opposition reports are difficult to verify
because the government restricts media access in Syria.
Syria's 20-month-old uprising has grown increasingly bloody
in recent months, and activists say more than 40,000 have died.
More than 200 people were killed on Saturday according to the
opposition-linked Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, with at
least 43 dead around Damascus and its suburbs.
Syrian security sources and diplomatic contacts told Reuters
that Assad's forces launched an offensive this week in a move to
seal central Damascus off from the suburbs.
The army's assault appears to have staved off a rebel
advance into central Damascus so far. But neither side has
gained ground in recent days, and fighting continues along the
outskirts of the city despite heavy shelling by Assad's forces.
Clashes around Damascus International Airport went into
their fourth day on Sunday. It has effectively been closed since
Thursday when the army tried to push back rebels there who say
the entire airport road had become a battleground.
"The Free Syrian Army is striking the reinforcements trying
to enter the airport to help the regime's forces...there are
clashes all along the airport road," said Abu Nidal, a rebel
spokesman in Damascus, speaking by Skype.
Rebels say they want to control the airport because the army
has used it to bring in weapons. Western intelligence reports
earlier this year said that Iran, Assad's main backer, had been
using civilian aircraft to fly military equipment and personnel
through Iraqi airspace into Syria.
American officials say that arms flow has continued due to
Iraqi reluctance to check flights, according to a New York Times
article. It said only two inspections had occurred since Iraq
agreed to a U.S. request in September and that Iran may have
been tipped off about the searches.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told reporters in a press
conference in Baghdad that there was no such request.
"There is no ability to inspect all planes destined to Syria
and there was no U.S. request to inspect all aircrafts because
they know that this is not possible," he said on Sunday.
"We said to the Syrians, Iranians, U.S, UN and the world, we
said as the Iraqi Government, we are committed to (prevent) the
weapon ... We prevent the passage of arms for you because our
constitution states that Iraq is not a pathway or a seat for any
In Syria's central city of Homs, a car bomb killed at least
15 people and wounded 24 on Sunday, Syria's state news agency
SANA said. It said the blast in the city's Hamra district also
damaged many nearby residential buidlings.
There has been a rise in the number of car bombs around the
country. The British-based Observatory, which has a network of
activists across Syria, reported four car bombs on Saturday.
Violence has risen in Syria particularly since rebels began
to contest Assad's control around the capital and Syria's
largest city Aleppo, but foreign powers remain deadlocked.
Western countries support the opposition but Russia, Syria's
main arms supplier, and China have blocked three U.N. Security
Council resolutions condemning Assad and reject sanctions on his
Assad, whose family has ruled Syria for four decades, says
he is fighting off radical Islamist militants funded by the West
and Gulf Arab countries.
State television on Sunday said the army had been
"eliminating al Qaeda terrorists" in several suburbs surrounding
Damascus including the rebel stronghold of Daraya.
The army entered part of Daraya, rebels said, a suburb on
the southern outskirts of Damascus where fighters have launched
mortars into the city. Rebel spokesman Abu Nidal said the army
had entered one side of the town but that rebels were still in
control of the rest of the area and were fighting back.
The army was firing heavy artillery and rockets into the
town, rebels said.