Syrian artillery and aircraft battered rebel positions in and around Damascus in an operation to secure the capital, as Russia and Turkey discussed on Monday their differences over the conflict.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, issued a ‘strong warning’ to President Bashar al Assad’s regime over the potential use of chemical weapons against the rebels. In Damascus, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a response to Clinton’s warning that Syria will ‘never, under any circumstances’ use chemical weapons against its own people.
“Syria confirms repeatedly it will never, under any circumstances, use chemical weapons against its own people, if such weapons exist,” he said. On Monday, an airstrike killed least 12 people - eight rebels and four civilians - and wounded more than 30 in the northeastern town of Ras al Ain, on the border with Turkey, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The warplane hit the Mahata district ‘controlled by the Al Nusra Front, Ghuraba al Sham and other rebel battalions,’ the Syrian Observatory said. The Observatory also reported that artillery gunners on Sunday night targeted the Damascus districts of Hajar al Aswad and Tadamun as well as the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmuk in the south of the capital.
The army bombarded Yabrud to the north, Yalda to the south and the Eastern Ghouta towns of Douma, Harasta, Irbin and Haran al Hawamid, in the area of the road linking Damascus to its international airport. In the south, aircraft bombed Beit Sahem and its orchards as fierce clashes raged on the ground between troops and rebels. The pro-regime newspaper Al Watan said, ‘To keep securing the road to Damascus international airport from the south, the army is continuing its drive in Al Hujeira, Aqraba, Beit Sahem’.
Forces loyal to Assad have been trying to establish a secure perimeter around Damascus at all costs, turning the province into one of the main battlegrounds in the conflict. Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, met Turkey’s prime minister for talks expected to cover their opposing views on the conflict in Syria.
Putin landed in Istanbul and went straight into talks with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose country is at loggerheads with Russia over how to tackle the crisis in Syria, despite growing trade and energy links. Protesters chanted anti-Putin slogans outside Erdogan’s office and another demonstration was staged outside the Russian consulate in Istanbul before the two leaders began their meeting.