As Friends of Syria meet in Qatar, rebels battle al-Assad’s onslaught | News | DW | 22.06.2013
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As Friends of Syria meet in Qatar, rebels battle al-Assad’s onslaught

Syria's army has pressed an assault against rebel areas in Damascus, killing three children. As rebels struggle to hold territory, sympathetic countries are meeting in Qatar to discuss how to support their efforts.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the rebels have so far resisted, battling government troops in the Qaboun district as the army tries to storm the neighborhood. Overnight, mortars killed three children from one family, the pro-opposition Britain-based Observatory reported.

Rebels also fought troops and pro-Assad militiamen in the Barzeh neighborhood of the capital, it said. The fighting erupted as rebels fought off an army attempt to enter the district, said the Syrian Revolution General Commission, a network of activists on the ground.

Over the past two weeks, Syria's army has dramatically boosted efforts to defeat the insurgency against President Bashar al-Assad. The opposition and activists have warned of critical humanitarian conditions in some areas.

On Saturday, rebels also fought regime troops on the edges of Al-Hajar al-Aswad in southern Damascus and Jubar in the east, the Observatory reported. Troops meanwhile pounded the Qadam district, parts of which are rebel-held.

According to the Observatory, in central Syria the military pushed on with its bid to end the insurgency in and around Homs. Referred to by activists as "the capital of the revolution," the city has suffered massive damage during Syria's 27-month conflict.

While troops shelled rebel-held besieged districts in the heart of Homs city, Assad loyalists also tried to storm the town of Tal Kalakh near the border with Lebanon.

Rebel allies meet

At Saturday's Friends of Syria talks, countries sympathetic to the rebels will meet in Qatar to discuss offering substantial military support to efforts to oust al-Assad. The rebel Free Syrian Army, which recently announced that it had obtained advanced weaponry from international allies, has reported that it will ask for more at the Doha meeting.

"From our part, the meeting will highlight the importance of sending more weapons and ammunition to the revolutionaries to help them confront attacks by the Syrian regime and their Hezbollah allies," Samir al-Nashar, a member of the opposition, told the news agency dpa.

At least 93,000 people have been killed in Syria since March 2011, according to the United Nations. The Doha meeting brings together the foreign ministers of 11 countries that make up a pro-rebel alliance: France, Germany, Egypt, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Britain and the United States.

‘No military solution'

President Barack Obama announced last week that the US would step up military aid to rebels following a series of counterattacks by al-Assad's forces, including the recapture of a strategic border town in an offensive led by Hezbollah guerrillas from Lebanon. Rebels say they urgently need advanced arms, including anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, to stem al-Assad's advance.

This is not uniformly viewed as the best solution. Paul Pinheiro, chair of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, warned that weapons would fuel the battle and put off negotiations: "There is no military solution," he said on Friday.

Allies hope that channeling assistance through the Syrian National Council, the official rebel military leadership, will reduce the influence in the opposition ranks of radical Islamist groups such as the al Qaeda-linked al Nusra Front. Last week, the United States expanded an existing training program in Jordan, dispatching about 2,000 additional advisors to train 5,000 Free Syrian Army commanders and officers over the next month, according to military officials.

mkg/jr (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)