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Syrian Army Advances on Opposition-Held Damascus Suburbs

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Photographer: Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images

Jan. 31 (Bloomberg) -- Syria’s army deployed to battle opposition fighters in suburbs of the capital, Damascus, ahead of a United Nations debate on a resolution calling for President Bashar al-Assad to leave.

Army tanks and troops battled their way into Zamalka, Arbeen, Rankous and Talfita, Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said in a telephone interview. The army has led a wide-ranging offensive to crush the Free Syrian Army, made up of defectors and armed civilians, since Jan. 27, he said.

“The rebels were holding control of some areas and were talking to the media freely, and since then the army has regained control of much of these areas,” Abdel Rahman said. “Intense shooting and explosions are heard in Rankous and Talfita, and the army is raiding homes and detaining people in Zamalka and Arbeen.”

Some 6,461 people have been killed in Syria since protests against Assad started in mid-March, including 4,685 civilians, the Syrian Observatory said on its website today.

Abdel Rahman and Mahmoud Merei, head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights, said they didn’t yet have information on any casualties today. Twelve people were killed in the violence today, according to Al Arabiya television which reported shooting between government forces and the Free Syrian Army in the central city of Homs.

Information Blackout

More than 100 people were killed yesterday, Abdel Rahman and Merei said. “The number of people killed has risen to about 100 every day since the army launched its offensive a few days ago,” Merei said in a telephone interview from Damascus. “We are having difficulty in finding out such information because the authorities are shutting down the phones, the electricity and the water in these areas.”

The U.S. and the European Union plan to mount a rare diplomatic assault on Russia today at the UN, seeking to overcome an impasse on a Security Council resolution calling for Assad to step down. Russia has maintained close relations with the Syrian government since the Soviet era, and has a naval base in Tartous, on the Mediterranean Sea.

Russia and China, veto-wielding members of the Security Council, blocked a UN resolution Oct. 4 seeking to pressure Assad to stop killing protesters in a crackdown that began 11 months ago. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov “guarantees” that his country will block the UN Security Council from approving military intervention in Syria, Interfax reported.

Burhan Ghalioun, president of the main opposition coalition, the Syrian National Council, met yesterday with Russia’s UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, to promise Moscow that its interests in Syria, Russia’s most important ally in the Middle East, will be preserved regardless of Assad’s fate.

To contact the reporter on this story: Nayla Razzouk in Dubai at nrazzouk2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

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