January 4, 2013 in Nation/World

Syrian bombers pound suburb

Air force jets target rebel-held districts
Ben Hubbard Associated Press
Associated Press photo

In this image taken from video obtained from Bambuser, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, Syrians help an injured man after an airstrike hit Douma, Syria on Thursday.
(Full-size photo)

BEIRUT – Twin airstrikes by government jets on a large, rebel-held suburb of Damascus on Thursday sheered the sides off apartment towers and left residents digging through rubble for the dead and wounded.

The bombing of Douma came amid a wave of attacks on rebellious districts of the Syrian capital, part of the government’s efforts to keep rebel fighters out of President Bashar Assad’s seat of power. Late Thursday, a car bomb exploded at a gas station inside the city itself, killing at least nine people, activists said.

Douma, the largest patch of rebel-held ground near Damascus, illustrates why the opposition’s advance on the capital has bogged down. Despite capturing territory and setting up committees to provide basic services, the rebels lack the firepower to challenge Assad’s forces and remain helpless before his air force.

That stalemate suggests the war will not end soon. The U.N. said Wednesday that more than 60,000 people have been killed since March 2011 – a figure much higher than previous opposition estimates.

Rebels took control of Douma, a suburb of some 200,000 located nine miles northwest of Damascus, in mid-October 2011, after launching attacks on military posts throughout the city, activists said.

Less than a week later, the rebels had taken over a half-dozen checkpoints and government buildings, said activist Mohammed Saeed. The army withdrew from others.

“Since then, the city has been totally liberated,” he said. “There are no government troops left, but we still suffer from regime airstrikes almost every day.”

Rebel forces are currently fighting the government in areas on three sides of the capital. They are closest in the south, where they have pushed into the poor Damascus neighborhood of Hajar al-Aswad. Recent weeks have also seen fierce clashes in the southwestern suburb of Daraya, which the government says it is close to reclaiming.

During Thursday’s airstrikes on Douma, a government fighter jet launched two bombing runs on a densely populated residential area near a prominent mosque, said Saeed, the activist.

Videos posted online showed residents rushing though a smoke-filled street and loading wounded people into cars and pickup trucks. One man was buried up to his thigh in debris and helped rescuers dig himself out. Another man emerged from a pile of rubble with blood on his face and covered head-to-toe in gray cement dust.

One group provided videos of 12 people they said were killed in the attack. The videos appeared genuine and corresponded to other AP reporting on the strike.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 10 rebel fighters and 32 civilians were killed Thursday in clashes, shelling and airstrikes in the Damascus Countryside province that surrounds the capital, more than anywhere else in Syria.

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