Syrian rebels take the fight to Bashar al-Assad’s heartland

The Daily Telegraph reports: Military trucks stood parked at the end of the dark empty street. The electricity was cut, the phone signals out and apartment windows boarded up with whatever wood or metal people could find. It was to stop the bullets, activists explained.

Shouting and chanting of “down down Bashar al Assad” could be heard in the distance, interspersed with the crackle of gunfire.

This is not Homs, Idlib, or any of those Syrian towns that for months have been in the throes of rebellious unrest and violent crackdown. This is Douma, a large satellite town on the edge of Damascus, the heartland of support for President Assad’s regime.

Damascus Old City continues in relative normality with the bustle of daily life. Occasional power cuts and a shortage of gas are the principal signs that all is not well.

But less than seven miles away, Douma is in lockdown. Every Friday – when protests traditionally take place after prayers in the mosques, the suburb is under a military siege.

“Do you see the army?” said Ali, an activist who risked arrest and much more to show The Daily Telegraph the situation in his home town. “This is Douma, not Kandahar or Baghdad,” he added still incredulous at the scenes before him.

At the bottom of the street, locals had put up flaming barricades to halt the advance of military vehicles. Regime soldiers were positioned on the tops of the building.

Men huddled in the doorway of the Obeid mosque. Mustering courage, they leapt out in groups, hurling themselves across the central avenue that was in the snipers’ “kill zone”, and into the relative safety of the alleyway opposite. Those who had made it encouraged the others, adrenalin high, shouting “Freedom” and “down down down with the regime” at the top of their voices.

The New York Times reports: Syrian rights activists and opposition groups said on Wednesday that forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad had killed at least 160 defecting soldiers, civilians and antigovernment activists over the last three days in northwestern Syria. If confirmed, the killings would constitute one of the worst spasms of violence in the nine-month-old uprising.

The killings, which the activists and opposition groups said had taken place near the city of Idlib in the Turkish border region, were reported a day before observers from the Arab League are to visit Syria for the first time to monitor pledges by Mr. Assad’s government to withdraw its troops from besieged areas.

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