Last Updated: Thu Aug 23, 2012 11:31 am (KSA) 08:31 am (GMT)

Activists say ‘large number’ of defected Syrian officers arrive in Jordan

A Free Syrian Army fighter prepares to fire a RPG as a Syrian Army tank shell hits a building across a street during a heavy fighting in Salaheddine neighborhood of central Aleppo. (Reuters)
A Free Syrian Army fighter prepares to fire a RPG as a Syrian Army tank shell hits a building across a street during a heavy fighting in Salaheddine neighborhood of central Aleppo. (Reuters)

Syrian activists claim that a large number of officers have defected from the Assad regime and reached Jordan late Wednesday through the help of the Free Syrian Army.

Among the officers are one brigadier general and four colonels, the activists told Al Arabiya, without giving an exact number for the “large number” of defectors.

The activists also said that heavy clashes ensued near the Jordanian-Syrian borders after the officers had departed through the southern province of Deraa.

However Jordan’s information and communication minister on Thursday denied that heavy clashes have took place in the Jordanian-Syrian borders late Wednesday. But he said the Jordanian army is vigilant to safeguard Syrians fleeing violence when crossing to Jordan.

Damascus clashes

Clashes broke out in Damascus on Thursday as Syrian government forces fired mortar rounds on rebel positions, activists said, in what they described as some of the heaviest fighting in the capital this month.

The opposition group, the Local Coordination Committees, reported early Thursday that 52 people are killed by President Bashar al-Assad’s security forces across Syria, mostly in Damascus.

Government forces fired mortar rounds from the Qasioun mountain overlooking Damascus, activists said, and southern suburbs echoed with the sound of gunfights between the army and rebels who have been struggling to topple Assad for more than 17 months.

“For about an hour we heard explosions and gunfire. It is not as bad as yesterday yet but tensions are really high. I think you could probably hear the echo of shelling or clashes from most parts of Damascus,” said opposition activist Samir al-Shami, who spoke to Reuters by Skype.

He and other activists said the bombardment and fighting seemed to be concentrated on southern districts of Damascus, where rebels have been able to slip in from rebellious suburbs near the capital.

Assad’s forces stormed the south-eastern district of Kafr Souseh early on Thursday and were making arrests, another activist said.

Hundreds of residents have been displaced due to fighting in the city, and many have taken shelter in mosques and schools in calmer areas. But some of those displaced are being asked to leave their places of refuge, said an activist who gave his name only as Tareq, of the Revolution Leadership Council of Damascus.

“Assad’s regime warned people staying in schools they have to evacuate within a few days, they are saying it is because they have to prepare for the coming school year,” he said.

“Thousands of displaces are worried because they have a lack of alternatives for a place to stay.”

Meanwhile, Amnesty International said in a 11-page briefing (and accompanying video footage) that civilians are enduring a horrific level of violence in the battle between Syrian government forces and opposition fighters for control of Aleppo .

“The use of imprecise weapons, such as unguided bombs, artillery shells and mortars by government forces has dramatically increased the danger for civilians”, said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International Senior Crisis Response Adviser, who recently returned from Aleppo.

The violence also coincided with the departure from the country of United Nations monitors, whose mandate expired and was not renewed due to deteriorating conditions that have dragged Syria into civil war.

The head of the U.N. mission, Babacar Gaye, was expected to leave on Thursday. Some monitors left on Wednesday and more are expected to follow the team leader on Thursday.

Regime is losing control: FSA

Head of FSA, Colonel Riaydh al-Asa’ad, said that the Syrian regime has lost control for around 80 percent of Syrian territories, and its heavy use of helicopters show its failure on ground.

Observers have highlighted FSA transformation when its military operations are no longer concerned mainly to repel attacks from the Syrian regime forces, but new FSA attacks have targeted the regime’s security forces, check points and military airports.

Activists on posted a video on Wednesday showing FSA displaying captured armored vehicles and tanks from Assad regime, thereby signaling new heights for the rebel army.

No safe havens for Syria

In a related story, Security Council divisions would prevent the creation of any safe haven in Syria for the growing number of refugees from the country’s civil war, a top U.N. official said Wednesday.

U.N. emergency relief coordinator Valerie Amos said about 1.2 million people have taken refuge in schools and other public buildings in Syria and growing numbers were heading for other countries to escape the conflict.

But she said the objections of Assad’s government and divisions within the 15-nation U.N. Security Council would prohibit the creation of safe havens as called for by Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

France, meanwhile, is organizing an August 30 ministerial meeting at the Security Council on the humanitarian impact of the civil war. It is not yet clear who will attend, though Turkey’s foreign minister is expected to be there.

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