Rebel grenade strike reported in Syrian capital

REPORTING FROM BEIRUT -- Rebels reportedly mounted a grenade attack Sunday on  a central Damascus building belonging to the ruling Baath party in what would be the most audacious strike to date in the Syrian capital,  according to opposition activists and news agency accounts.

There was no  confirmation from the Syrian government.

Damascus  has been relatively free of violence during the eight months of protests against the rule of President Bashar Assad. Other regions, notably the central cities of Homs and Hama and their suburbs, have been scenes of major fighting and heavy casualties.

But armed insurgents, including defectors from the Syrian military, appear to have stepped up assaults in recent days. Last week, a defector group called the Syrian Free Army took credit for a reported attack on an Air Force intelligence facility outside Damascus. The same defector group said it was behind Sunday’s reported strike.

Many observers, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have voiced fears that Syria was sliding toward civil war.

Sunday’s strike on the Baath Party building  was reported to have occurred hours after the midnight expiration of an Arab League deadline for Syria to comply with a league-brokered peace pact. Violence has continued to rage despite the peace plan, which calls for a withdrawal of government forces and dialogue. The Cairo-based bloc suspended Syria, a founding member, because of its failure to implement the plan.

Reports Sunday indicated that the Arab League had rejected Assad's conditions for a planned league observer mission to Syria. The observer team was a key part of the peace blueprint.

In an interview with Britain’s Sunday Times, Assad seemed to dismiss the Arab League plan as a “pretext” for Western nations “to conduct a military intervention against Syria.” He vowed to press an offensive against “armed terrorist acts,” and insisted he would not “bow down” to pressure. The Obama administration and other Western leaders have urged Assad to resign.

“The only way is to search for the armed people, chase the armed gangs, prevent the entry of arms and weapons from neighboring countries, prevent sabotage and enforce law and order,” Assad  told The Sunday Times.

The attack Sunday occurred in the capital’s Mazraa neighborhood, according to the Local Coordinating Committees, an opposition coalition. The group said  in a statement that “several” rocket-propelled grenades were shot at the facility.

 “People saw smoke coming out of the building,” the group reported.

Fire brigades were headed toward the site and security forces were sealing off the area, the opposition activists said.

There was no word on injuries, but Reuters quoted a witness saying the attack occurred just before dawn, when the building was mostly empty.

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— Patrick J. McDonnell

 
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