Jets blast rebels in Damascus

November 22, 2012 - 6:15:46 am

AMMAN/BEIRUT: Syrian warplanes bombed a Damascus suburb yesterday in a push to dislodge rebels from a stronghold that threatens President Bashar Al Assad’s hold on the capital, opposition activists said.

Heavy fighting also raged in other outskirts of the city in the most serious challenge to Assad’s seat of power in months.

In Brussels, Nato envoys were considering a request by Turkey to deploy Patriot missiles its territory to defend itself against any Syrian attacks.

Even though the measure is aimed at preventing a spill-over of the 20-month-old conflict into Syria’s neighbours, it signalled a creeping internationalisation of the conflict. 

The Syrian opposition will need $60bn in Marshall Plan-style aid to prevent the country’s collapse within six months of a fall of the regime, prominent leader George Sabra told reporters yesterday.

He urged a “Partnership to Invest in Future Syria” meeting held in Dubai to immediately launch a Marshall Plan for the Arab country, along the lines of the huge post-World War II recovery programme for Europe.

Sabra said the money must come in the form of aid from “our Arab brothers and the international community on whom we count to fulfill their responsibilities towards the humanitarian crisis our country is facing.”

Funding is needed to “resolve the most sensitive and outstanding issues,” starting with “securing housing for people after 2.5 million homes have been destroyed” in the conflict, said Sabra, head of the Syrian National Council.

After months of slow progress, the rebels have in the last few weeks captured several army positions on the outskirts of Damascus and outlying regions, including a special forces base near Aleppo, Syria’s commercial hub, and an air defence position near Damascus’s southern gate.

Assad’s opponents are also gaining support internationally with a new coalition of opposition and rebel groups seeking recognition as the legitimate voice of the Syrian people.

Shashank Joshi of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London said the developments of the last few weeks were shifting the balance in favour of the rebels. “The use of the world ‘stalemate’ to describe the conflict may no longer be appropriate,” he said by phone. “The rebels have moved up the ladder of warfare.” 

Yesterday, MiG fighter jets launched a second day of raids on the opposition-held suburb of Daraya, set in farmland near the main southern highway, where rebels have been battling elite Republican Guard units.