BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian army defectors said they launched several attacks Wednesday on President Bashar Assad's military and intelligence bases near the capital, the latest strikes in an escalating campaign by the renegade troops against regime forces.
The Free Syrian Army said in a statement that its main pre-dawn attack targeted a compound run by the Air Force Intelligence in the Damascus suburb of Harasta. Defectors also hit military checkpoints in the Damascus suburbs of Douma, Qaboun and Arabeen and Saqba.
The Air Force Intelligence is one of the country's most powerful and feared security agencies and has played a major role in the regime's bloody crackdown against the 8-month-old uprising. The strike was believed to be the closest yet to Assad's seat of power in Damascus, where the loyal and well-equipped Republican Guards hold sway.
Wednesday's attacks could not be independently confirmed and the Free Syrian Army released no details about the fighting or possible casualties.
But a Syrian opposition figure said the operation in Harasta was carried out by defectors who broke attacked the compound from three sides with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled-grenades. He added that the administrative building was damaged and the attackers made sure not to hit a nearby building where detainees were being held.
The opposition figure, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss military operations, said all the defectors' troops safely returned. He quoted residents in the area as saying that ambulances rushed to the military compound after the attack.
The Syrian government has largely sealed off the country, barring most foreign journalists and preventing independent reporting. But details gathered by activist groups and witnesses, along with amateur videos, have become key channels of information.
The attacks came hours before foreign ministers from the 22-member Arab League, who have gathered in Morocco, were expected to formalize their weekend decision to suspend Syria for refusing to end its crackdown against anti-government protesters.
Violence has continued unabated since Syria agreed on Nov. 2 to an Arab-brokered peace deal that called for the regime to halt violence against protesters, pull tanks and armored vehicles out of cities, release political prisoners and allow access to journalists and rights groups.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 11 people were killed Wednesday, including seven in the central province of Homs. It said that four others, including three defectors, were killed in the central province of Hama after they were ambushed by troops loyal to Assad.
The Local Coordination Committees, another activist group said six people have been so far killed on Wednesday, three in Homs, two in Idlib and one in the Damascus suburb of Zabadani.
Attacks by army defectors are rare near Damascus, and clashes between defectors and troops in the past have been concentrated in the northwestern province of Idlib, the central region of Homs and the southern province of Daraa.
On Monday, defectors killed 34 of Assad's soldiers and members of the security in Daraa, on what was one of the bloodiest days of the 8-month-old uprising. The U.N. says that more than 3,500 people have been killed since Assad launched his crackdown on the protesters in mid-March.
Bassem Mroue can be reached on http://twitter.com/bmroue