Heavy gunfire continues in the Syrian capital despite official reports that Damascus was fully cleared from armed militants on Tuesday morning. RT’s Maria Finoshina says that blasts can be heard close to the city center.
On Tuesday evening, Syrian officials once again stated Damascus was clear following intensive fighting. Several armed groups infiltrated the capital and attempted to instigate unrest in several districts during the day, Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi said.
“Some of the fighters have surrendered, the others have escaped by cars or even on foot, firing rounds into the air to scare residents,” al-Zoubi added, as quoted by Interfax.
At the same time, the Free Syrian Army insists that its fighters have downed one of the regime’s battle helicopters over the northeast of Damascus.
“Helicopters are flying at low altitude. It’s easy to target them using anti-aircraft weapons,” a senior rebel officer told Reuters, adding that the helicopter was shot down in the district of Qaboun.
Assad’s military has left the report unconfirmed, though witnesses in the capital say they saw a chopper going down in smoke.
Doesn’t look like a final battle – RT’s reporter in Damascus
RT’s correspondent Maria Finoshina reports helicopters firing is clearly heard in the capital’s central district of Mezra. Still, the intensity of fighting inside the capital is nowhere near the level she experienced during last weeks assault on Douma, some 14 km from the capital, where she remembers her hotel windows shaking from the fierce exchanges.
Though occasional shooting in Damascus continues and armed soldiers are patrolling the streets, “it doesn’t seem like final or decisive battle for capital.”
Finoshina’s source in the Syrian army has revealed that the army’s tactic is to surround rebel hotbeds while leaving them a “corridor” to flee. The plan is to direct them into less populated areas where they can be dealt with without restraint.
Shootings were heard in Mezrah area of Damascus, very close to the city center and not far from the Russian embassy. The ruling Baath party building has reportedly been targeted in the area. Police, however, have yet to unblock the roads and the city remains under the control of government security forces.
Tank in the Damascus suburb of Arbeen (AP video still shot)
Residents in the Midan area of southern Damascus asked the operation’s commander to establish a corridor through which “the terrorists” could leave. He refused, saying “We gave them time to surrender – they refused. We are not here to negotiate.”
On Monday the Free Syrian Army announced a final “battle for Damascus”. By Monday evening the Nahreshe and Al Qadam neighborhoods in Southern Damascus were reportedly hotbeds for intense gunfire exchanges. Finoshina reported that because of the fierce clashes, the roads leading to these areas were closed. Later it became known that clashes were underway in four densely populated areas of Southern Damascus. No reports on casualties have been made so far.
Similar tactics were used last year by the rebels in the Libyan capital Tripoli. Despite fully being controlled by Muammar Gaddafi’s forces, militants infiltrated the city with their arms and one day, after receiving a signal, launched a simultaneous armed attack, killing police officers and army servicemen.
A source close to the Syrian government told RT’s reporter that the militants appeared in the Palestinian refugee camps in order to destabilize them but did not find support among the camps’ residents. Palestinians reportedly said that their camps are safe and sound “green zones.” Being guests in Syria, the refugees said they would prefer to stay away from the conflict.