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Syrian officials claim rebels chased from Damascus district of Midan

July 20, 2012 |  7:37 am

BEIRUT -- As fighting reportedly raged for a sixth consecutive day in Damascus, the government said it had routed rebels in the Syrian capital's Midan district, scene of intense combat in recent days.

Syrian state television said Friday it had “cleaned” the district of “terrorists,” the government’s customary term for armed insurgents seeking to oust President Bashar Assad.

The Syrian military has launched an offensive against insurgents in various districts across Damascus and its suburbs.

Agence France-Presse reported that journalists were taken on a government-organized trip through the empty, debris-strewn streets of Midan, passing by empty shops and bullet-scarred walls.

Syrian state TV displayed what it called the bodies of insurgents laid out on a floor, many with rifles by their side.

The opposition reportedly said its forces had made a “tactical withdrawal” from the sprawling district, not far from the walls of the old city. Guerrilla fighters in Syria have frequently backed off when facing overwhelming government force.

Opposition activists reported fresh attacks in various parts of the capital and its suburbs, including the Jobar and Barzeh districts.

Friday’s battles follow a 24-hour period that opposition activists say was among the bloodiest in Syria’s rebellion, which began more than 16 months ago.

Almost 300 people were killed across Syria on Thursday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based opposition group. The death toll included more than 100 “unarmed civilians,” almost 100 armed services personnel and 60 rebel fighters, the group said.

The figures could not be independently corroborated because the government has severely restricted the access of international media. Each side in the Syrian conflict has accused the other of providing misleading casualty counts.

In another matter, Syrian authorities announced the death of Gen. Hisham Ikhtiyar, the chief of national security. He succumbed to wounds sustained in the bombing Wednesday of a national security compound in Damascus, state media said. Killed in the blast were three other high-ranking security figures, including Asef Shawkat, the president's brother-in-law.

Also injured in the bombing was Syrian Interior Minister Mohammed Shaar, the government said. His condition was not publicly disclosed.


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-- Patrick J. McDonnell

Photo: Smoke rises next to a damaged building in the Midan neighborhood in Damascus, Syria, on Friday. Credit: European Pressphoto Agency