Syria’s Barzeh in flames after barrage of rockets

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Syrian regime forces opened a barrage of rockets into the district of Barzeh, northeast of Damascus, killing at least five people and trapping others under the rubble, activists said Friday.

The attack on Barzeh, where opposition forces aiming to topple President Bashar al-Assad are known to operate, follows days of heavy fighting between the rebels and the military in the area.

Amateur videos posted online by activists showed what appeared to be destroyed and burning houses. Others showed men with a flashlight working to pull out a survivor from the rubble.

Barzeh is close to Esh al-Wirwar, a suburb of Damascus predominantly inhabited by Alawites and Syrian army volunteers. Rebels frequently target the area with mortar shells.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed a barrage of shells hit Barzeh and said at least one person was killed and several others wounded. It said the nature of the attack and exact number of casualties were not clear.

Rebels have established footholds in districts on the edge of Damascus and in suburbs in the northeast and south, from where they fire mortars into the heavily guarded city.

Activists said they are in control of 80 percent of the Deraa province and analysts say the southern region if fully controlled would be the base from which the opposition forces would sweep to Damascus.

Nizar Abdel-Qader, a military analyst, said: “The battle of Damascus will begin from Deraa, especially if is true that 4,000 fighters are being trained by a foreign party on the Jordanian side of the border.”

Recent reports suggested that the United States has set up a training camp in Jordan for the Syrian rebels seeking to topple Assad’s regime.

The Syrian revolt started with largely peaceful protests in March 2011 but has developed into a civil war with increasingly sectarian overtones.

Sunni Muslims dominate rebel ranks, while the Assad regime is composed mostly of Alawites, an offshoot Shiite group to which the president and his family belong. More than 70,000 people have died in the conflict, according to the United Nations.

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