January 5, 2013 in Nation/World

Fighting continues in Damascus suburbs

Ned Parker Los Angeles Times

BEIRUT – Fighting raged around the suburbs of the Syrian capital on Friday, as rebels sought to gain control of a ring of farming, residential and industrial communities that are a lifeline for the government of President Bashar Assad.

In neighboring Turkey, the first of 400 U.S. troops arrived to operate Patriot missile batteries intended to keep the violence from spilling over into the territory of the NATO country.

The ring of contested Damascus suburbs, known as the ghouta, is home to wealthy Syrian landowners and many Sunnis who flocked to the city over the last decade from the countryside.

“The environs of Damascus are very important for control of the city,” said Andrew Tabler, a Syrian expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Many are Sunni areas, intermixed with Alawite communities that ring Damascus. It’s natural that the conflict would be in these areas.”

Syria’s insurgents are mainly members of the majority Sunni community; Assad is a member of the Alawite minority.

The rebels have used areas like the Western suburb of Moadamiyat, which came under attack Friday, to try to choke off government access to the main military airport in Damascus. “The rebels want to liberate territory and deny the government logistical support,” Tabler said.

On Friday, MiG jets struck both Moadamiyat and the southern suburb of Daraya, said an activist in Damascus who goes by the name Susan Ahmed. The shelling left 17 dead in Daraya and 12 dead in Moadamiyat, she said. The pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported the attacks. It posted a YouTube video that the group said showed Moadamiyat after the air raid as men dug through the rubble for casualties.

Daraya, like Moadamiyat, is seen as a lifeline for Damascus. It is on the way to the city’s military airport and provides a gateway to the center of the capital. “If the rebels have Daraya, they can attack the military airport and the middle of Damascus,” said Rami Abdulrahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

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