Syria’s Brotherhood calls for action amid escalating violence

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Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood called on Wednesday for a week of action both in the strife-torn country and elsewhere to mark the two years since the revolt broke out against President Bashar al-Assad.

“We in the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria declare the week following March 15 a national week of solidarity with the Syrian people and their blessed revolution,” AFP quoted the exiled opposition group as saying.

“We call on the heroic Syrian people to bring back to life all aspects of the uprising... inspired by the spirit of real national unity, speaking in one voice,” a statement added.

Protesters in towns and cities across Syria have taken to the streets every Friday since March 15, 2011 to call for the fall of Assad.

The banned Muslim Brotherhood was forced out of Syria by Assad’s father and predecessor Hafez after the brutal repression of an Islamist-led anti-regime movement in the early 1980s.

Dissidents say the group plays a significant role in the opposition today.

In its statement, the Brotherhood also called on “people in Arab and Islamic countries, and on free people everywhere in the world... to consider March 15 to 22 a week of global support to the Syrian people... with marches, demonstrations and sit-ins.”

The organization also renewed its criticism of the international community’s paralysis over the Syrian crisis.

“The Syrian people, men, women, old and young, carry out wonderful acts of bravery and make sacrifices, holding out despite the regime's massacres and its crimes against defenseless civilians,” said the Brotherhood.

But “the international community has watched and listened on, failing the Syrian people, and failing to fulfill its legal and humanitarian responsibilities,” it added.

Fierce battles in Damascus

Meanwhile, Syrian government troops fought fierce battles with rebels on Wednesday for control of key neighborhoods in the north of Damascus, Assad’s seat of power, the Associated Press reported residents and activists as saying.

Opposition fighters trying to topple Assad have been trying to take Damascus for weeks, battering regime checkpoints and military bases in the heavily fortified capital. They have also fired mortars into residential districts and into the capital’s main football stadium, sowing fear among residents.

Both sides see Damascus as the ultimate prize in the civil war.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Wednesday’s clashes were concentrated in the capital’s neighborhoods of Jobar and Barzeh.

A resident in the area said shelling overnight “shook apartments” and terrified the inhabitants. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was afraid for his safety.

Clashes subsided by early Wednesday but sporadic gunfire could still be heard in the contested districts.

A car bomb exploded outside a police station in Khan Sheih neighborhood, west of Damascus, the Observatory said. The Britain-based activist group also said fierce clashes broke out after the blast but had no immediate reports of casualties.

Fighting also raged in other Syrian cities, including in Homs, where the regime pounded rebel positions with artillery and carried out several airstrikes on the Baba Amr district, a former rebel stronghold which the opposition has tried to recapture in the past days.

First death of EU employee

Also in the Syrian capital, a European Union staff member was killed in a rocket attack in an opposition stronghold south of the capital, the EU said.

In Brussels, the EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said a policy officer with the European delegation in Syria was killed on Tuesday in the Damascus suburb of Daraya. It was the first death in the Syrian civil war of an EU employee.

Ahmad Shihadeh, 32, had worked for the EU for five years, a spokesman for Ashton said Wednesday. He said Shihadeh had lived in Daraya, a suburb of Damascus that has been one of the main battlefields in the capital.

Ashton said he “died while providing humanitarian help to the community of Daraya,” Ashton said. “Ahmad was known for his courage and selflessness.”

The neighboring countries also saw the spilling over of the conflict.

The U.N. refugee Chief Antonio Guterres says his agency is working with Jordan to bolster security at a camp for Syrian refugees where reports of drug trafficking, prostitution and other crimes have emerged.

Syria’s uprising morphed into an insurgency after the regime unleashed a brutal crackdown on dissent. The conflict has left some 70,000 people dead, the U.N. says.