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In Syria, clashes reported in affluent Damascus district

March 19, 2012 |  9:49 am

REPORTING FROM AMMAN, JORDAN -- Clashes between Syrian forces and rebels broke out overnight in Mezzeh, an affluent central district of Damascus, opposition activists said Monday.

It is a rare outbreak of armed combat in the Syrian capital, which has seen protests and bombings but otherwise has largely been insulated from the violence raging in Syria for the past year.

“The gunfire started at 11 p.m. in Mezzeh and lasted for approximately three hours. There were clashes between the [rebel] Free Syrian Army and the regular army,” an opposition activist in Damascus said when reached via Skype, speaking on condition of anonymity. “I heard the heavy gunfire and several explosions, then around 4 a.m. the sound of fire died down."

Syrian state media reported Monday that government forces stormed “a den of armed terrorist groups in a residential building in Mezzeh after evacuating the families living there for their safety.”

State media often refer to the rebels as terrorists, while the armed dissidents call themselves freedom fighters. Two members of the opposition forces were killed, one was arrested and arms were confiscated, the Syrian Arab News Agency reported. One member of the security forces was also reportedly killed, the agency said.

Khalid Hamoud, a Free Syrian Army lieutenant with the rebels' media team , said the gunfights were spurred by a successful mass defection from Syrian security forces. Hamoud, reached by phone in Turkey, said scores of people were killed, but his figures could not be independently confirmed.

Opposition activists said that wounded civilians were taken to Al-Muwasah hospital in Damascus.

Mezzeh is an upper middle class area of Damascus, where many embassies are located.

“Syrian forces were concerned about residents of Mezzeh because it is an area where many army officers live. When they storm other areas, poor areas, they don’t seem to be so concerned,” a Syrian writer critical of the regime said anonymously.

Damascus was also hit with bombings on Saturday that killed dozens of people, with government forces and the opposition trading blame for the deadly attacks.

Syria has been mired in violence for more than a year. The United Nations has condemned the Assad regime for cracking down on his opponents, bemoaning killings and torture. Syrian leaders say the nation is under assault from armed terrorists and must defend itself.

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-- Rima Marrouch. Emily Alpert in Los Angeles contributed.

Video: Footage uploaded to YouTube by an opposition activist purports to record the sounds of clashes in central Damascus on Sunday.

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