Damascus sees worst violence since start of Syrian uprising
The fighting took place overnight, and lasted until the early hours Saturday. Residents reported a copious amount of gunfire emanating from both sides. At one point, rebels launched rocket-propelled grenades at a local power plant, damaging parts of it, and incinerating six buses in the process. This was confirmed by a UN observer video taken in the aftermath of the clashes. The Syrian army reportedly launched three tank shells into a residential area in the Damascus neighborhood of Qaboun, though this was only confirmed by opposition activists. Residents were also said to have burnt tires to block the advance of Syrian troops. Several amateur videos capturing the gunfire exchanges and tire burnings were taken. Damascus, a stronghold of the Syrian government, has enjoyed a level of relative serenity throughout the 15-month long conflict, with most battles between regime and rebel forces taking place elsewhere. The number of casualties or injuries resulting from the Damascus skirmishes remains unknown. However, on Saturday the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that at least 42 civilians were killed in violence outside the city, including 20 slain in the southern town of Daraa, the cradle of the rebellion. Later on Saturday, a mass funeral was held for those killed in Daraa. On the surface, it looked somewhat jovial as participants danced, sang and paraded the dead in coffins around the main square, according to amateur footage. The latest spate of violence comes after Kofi Annan, the joint UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon addressed the UN General Assembly and Security Council on the matter. Both lay the blame primarily on the Syrian government and called for a more rigorous implementation of Annan's six-point peace plan. Their briefings took place right after the latest mass killing in the country, this time in the village of Mazraat al-Qubair in the Hama province. That massacre claimed the lives of 78 people, including women and children. Another massacre, in the village of Houla two weeks ago, took the lives of over 100 civilians. Western powers were quick to accuse the Assad government of orchestrating the massacres. Russia and China called for more caution, saying rebels also had to share the blame, and pointed to the fact that many of those fighting against the Syrian regime had links to Islamist terrorist groups. Damascus rejected any accusations, also saying terrorists were behind the slayings. Many analysts have pointed to the timing of the mass killings; with the Hama massacre taking place on the eve of Annan’s and Ban’s UN address. The rebels, they say, want the world community to lay blame on the regime, and therefore carry out the slayings ahead of major meetings and scheduled addresses.