Syrian rebel fighters are planning a campaign of guerrilla warfare in Damascus after a daring operation took place in the capital’s most secure district, according to a report in Britain’s Sunday Times.
Last Monday, a unit from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) launched a pre-dawn assault in the Mezze district of Damascus, just yards from the homes of two of the regime’s top security chiefs.
According to the Sunday Times, the fighting ended with a senior Sunni general, who had made clear that he wished to defect to the FSA, and his family being escorted from their home under the protection of the rebels.
The paper quoted Abu Louay, the unit’s commander, as he described the operation’s motives: “We had been in contact for several months with a general who wanted to defect and when the zero hour came we sent three units to Mezze to secure him.
“We wanted to show the regime we are capable of launching operations in the middle of their home, just a few [miles] from the presidential palace. People think nothing is happening in Damascus, but it is boiling.”
Abu Louay told the Sunday Times that the general would speak publically as soon as the FSA was able to get him and his family somewhere safe.
Another source cited by the paper is a former member of Syrian intelligence, now working with the rebels, who allegedly confirmed that they were planning assassinations and guerrilla attacks in Damascus, having been bombed out of their stronghold in the Baba Amr district of Homs.
The attack on Mezze must be the most high-profile attack by the FSA in the city; however the paper said that the information is impossible to verify since independent journalists are banned from entering Syria.
The Sunday Times reported that Mezze is home to Syria’s wealthy elite and is the capital’s most secure neighborhood, with embassies, armed guards and gated compounds.
The paper quoted activists saying that Assef Shawkat, the brother-in-law of President Bashar al-Assad and deputy head of the armed forces, has a home in Mezze Villas West, where the most intense fighting happened.
It added that Ali Mamluk, the head of state security, is said to have two houses in the same street, and, just a few hundred yards up the road in Mezze 86, a purpose-built military compound is housing officers and their families.
Abu Louay told the Sunday Times that two FSA units of 10 men each were sent to Mezze 86 to escort the defecting general and his family from their home while a third unit clashed with security forces in Mezze Villas West as a diversion.
Witnesses described to the Sunday Times the intense fighting involving heavy machinegun fire and rocket-propelled grenades. A military helicopter with a searchlight flew over the area, said the FSA sources to the paper, forcing the rebel fighters to hole up in a nearby flat where at least seven were killed.
Talking to Mohammed, a 30-year-old man living on the street where the fighting took place, the newspaper reported: “At about midnight there was the sound of two big bombs; we live in the most secure area of Damascus. This is the first time in my life that I’ve seen shooting.”