Asharq Al-Awsat, Beirut, 5 Oct, 2013 —Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar Al-Assad continued shelling the Barzeh district in Damascus on Friday, Asharq Al-Awsat has learned. Several Free Syrian Army battalions are stationed in that part of the Syrian capital.
Anti-Assad activists told Asharq Al-Awsat that the “regime renewed its shelling of the neighborhood in the eastern part of the capital using heavy artillery, tank shells and heavy machine guns,” with intermittent clashes erupting on the outskirts of the Damascus neighborhood as a result of regular forces trying to enter from several sides.
According to the sources, regime forces have been trying to wrest control of Barzeh since September 10 with “air strikes targeting the neighborhood on an almost regular basis three times a day.”
The five-month siege laid by Assad forces on the rebel-held neighborhood has led to a decline in the humanitarian situation, with shortages in food and medication now affecting most residents.
Given its strategic significance, “controlling the neighborhood is a key and central point for the regime,” as it will “affect the course of battles in Damascus and Rif Dimashqm,” the opposition source said.
“FSA battalions inside the neighborhood are well fortified, and the regime will not be able to enter the neighborhood,” the source added.
The neighborhood, which once was home to 75,000 people, is of importance for the two conflicting sides. Government forces are trying to tighten security around some key military sites adjoining the area, such as the military police command and the military research center.
For the opposition, the neighborhood constitutes a gateway to the Syrian capital, particularly since it has taken over several towns in Rif Dimashq.
Meanwhile, clashes erupted in the suburbs of Hama as the regime shelled the area.
In other news from Syria, Human Rights Watch said in a report released Thursday that the Syrian government is holding tens of thousands of political detainees without charge, including medics, citizen journalists and even software developers.
The report said that many of these detainees are being tortured, with some reported raped in custody.
The New York-based organization also said that some of the armed opposition groups fighting to overthrow Assad have “arbitrarily detained people, including journalists, humanitarian workers, and activists.”