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Air raids pound rebels near Damascus: watchdog
by Staff Writers
Beirut (AFP) Dec 24, 2012

Syria troops using killer gas bombs in Homs: watchdog
Beirut (AFP) Dec 24, 2012 - Syrian troops have deployed bombs containing a killer gas while fighting rebels in the central city of Homs, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and activists said on Monday.

"Activists in Homs say that six rebels died on Sunday night on the Khaldiyeh-Bayada frontline because they inhaled odorless gas and white smoke," said the Britain-based Observatory, which relies on a network of activists, lawyers and doctors to document Syria's raging conflict.

"Gas spread in the area after regime troops threw bombs that gave off white smoke as soon as they hit the walls," said the Observatory, which added that the bombs were deployed during street clashes with the rebels.

"Those who inhaled the gas felt nauseous and suffered severe headaches. Some suffered fits," it added.

"These are not chemical weapons, but we do not know whether they are internationally prohibited," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

"Activists say it is the first time they have recorded these effects," he added. "They are not conventional weapons."

The Observatory called on the International Committee of the Red Cross to urgently send a specialised medical team to Homs, several of whose districts have been besieged by army forces for more than six months.

The Local Coordination Committees also reported the use of "bombs containing gases" in Homs.

"These gases lead to muscle relaxation, severe difficulty in breathing and the narrowing of the iris," said the LCC, a grassroots network of peaceful activists.

Amateur video filmed by activists and distributed online by the LCC showed a man laid out on a stretcher struggling to breathe as an unidentified doctor held an oxygen mask over his face.

"It's definitely a poisonous gas, but we don't know what type it is," said a field doctor.

"This man has been injured by the gas. We do not know what type of gas it is. It is definitely not sarin," he added.

US President Barack Obama led international warnings to President Bashar al-Assad over Syria's chemical weapons arsenal but Damascus has repeatedly insisted it would not use the arms against its own people.

Warplanes carried out several strikes on Monday on rebel-held areas in the Eastern Ghouta area near Damascus, where fresh clashes pitting insurgents and troops erupted, said a monitoring group.

The area east of Damascus is home to some of the rebel Free Syrian Army's fiercest and best organised groups. Several towns in Eastern Ghouta have become key flashpoints in Syria's conflict, as the violence draws ever nearer to the capital.

Analysts say the regime of President Bashar al-Assad is trying to secure an eight-kilometre (five-mile) radius around the capital so it can be in a position to negotiate a solution to the nearly two-year conflict.

In Damascus, violent battles raged on Sunday night in the northeastern district of Qaboon and on the road separating the southern Palestinian camp of Yarmuk from neighbouring Al-Hajar Al-Aswad, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Violent clashes broke out in Yarmuk last week. A tense calm returned on Thursday.

The Observatory also reported fierce army shelling on the central province of Hama, scene of a massacre of some 60 people on Sunday at the entrance to a bakery in the rebel-held town of Halfaya, according to the Observatory.

Shelling was also reported in the central province of Homs and Daraa in the south.

Monday's violence came a day after at least 198 people were killed across Syria, just as international peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi arrived in Syria to launch a new bid to resolve the spiralling war.

More than 44,000 people have been killed in violence across Syria since the outbreak of an anti-regime revolt in March last year. The revolt morphed into an insurgency after the regime launched a brutal repression campaign to try and suppress dissent.

Syria town attacked by 'terrorists': state media
Damascus (AFP) Dec 24, 2012 - A 'terrorist' group attacked the rebel-held town of Halfaya in central Syria killing women and children, news agency SANA said on Monday, rebuffing claims the deaths were a result of a regime air strike.

The opposition Syrian National Coalition meanwhile blamed the "criminal regime" of President Bashar al-Assad for committing what it described as a "crime against humanity" in the town.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said more than 60 people were killed and at least 50 wounded in the town on Sunday, accusing aerial forces of bombing a local bakery.

SANA, the official news agency, however gave a vastly different account, citing residents of the town located in the central province of Hama.

"An armed terrorist group attacked the town of Halfaya committing crimes against the population, killing many women and children," it said.

The report added that the Syrian army intervened during the assault and "killed and wounded many terrorists", a term officials and state media use to refer to rebels fighting to oust the Damascus regime.

"Terrorists then shot video images to accuse the Syrian army when the international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi arrived in Syria," the agency said.

Video footage posted online by activists showed a bombed one-storey block and a crater in the road.

Bloodied bodies lay on the road, while others could be seen in the rubble. Men carried victims out on their backs, among them at least one woman. The video could not immediately be verified.

The opposition National Coalition, which is recognised by dozens of countries and organisations as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, blamed Assad's regime for the "massacre" in Halfaya, saying it "targeted children, women and men who went out to get their scarce daily bread ration."

"The Syrian Coalition is taking action on several tracks considering all possible measures to prosecute those criminals who were involved in the Halfaya massacre on December 23, 2012 and bring them to justice," it said in a statement.

The Syrian National Council -- a key opposition group -- meanwhile blamed the international community for "being responsible for this massacre... by not supporting the Syrian people."

During the summer, rights groups accused government forces of committing war crimes by dropping bombs and using artillery on or near several bakeries in the northern province of Aleppo.

International peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi met Assad on Monday, a day after arriving in Syria to launch a fresh bid to resolve the brutal 21-month conflict that has already killed more than 44,000 people.


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