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Syrian troops storm Damascus refugee area, chase rebels | THE JEENYUS CORNER

 

By Oliver Holmes
REUTERS

Syrian government troops stormed an area of Damascus populated by Palestinian refugees on Saturday after a four-day artillery assault on the southern suburb where rebels have been sheltering, opposition activists said.

President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have largely preferred to use air power and artillery to hit areas where rebels are dug in, deploying infantry only once many have fled. Activists said the new ground onslaught put civilians at risk.

The almost 18-month-old conflict also spilled further over borders when three rockets fired from Syria crashed into an Iraqi frontier town, killing a 5-year-old girl, according to local inhabitants and Iraqi officials.

Anxious to end the bloodshed, European Union diplomats said on Saturday the 27-nation bloc might impose new sanctions on the Syrian government as soon as next month.

Speaking after visiting a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said he saw “the first signs of erosion in the regime of Assad”.

“It is necessary we isolate the regime of Bashar al-Assad,” he told a news conference.

“We will use the next weeks while Germany has the presidency of the (U.N.) Security Council to work on this isolation and to increase the pressure on this regime. We think he has gone too far and his time is over.”

Assad’s use of military force to quell an uprising that began as a peaceful pro-democracy movement has cost him many allies in the Arab and Muslim world and caused a trickle of defections from Syrian government and army ranks.

Two Syrian diplomats in Malaysia announced late on Friday that they had joined the opposition, according to a report by pan-Arab television channel Al Arabiya.

But the defections so far are seen largely as symbolic and Assad has increasingly relied on a close circle of relatives and senior members of his minority Alawite sect dominating the ruling elite to maintain his family’s 42-year-old grip on power.

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