The Syrian army has “cleaned” the Midan area of Damascus of “terrorists,” the state TV reports, a day after opposition fighters controlled the country’s border posts with Turkey and Iraq and the brazen killing of three top security officials in the capital.
Syrian military forces have “cleaned” the Midan area of Damascus of “terrorists,” state television said early on Friday.
“Our brave army forces have completely cleaned the area of Midan in Damascus of the remaining mercenary terrorists and have reestablished security,” the broadcaster said.
The reports could not be confirmed. The Syrian government restricts access by international journalists.
Activists in Damascus said rebels were now in control of the capital’s northern Barzeh district, where troops and armored vehicles had pulled out.
The army had also pulled out of the towns of Tel and Dumair north of Damascus after taking heavy losses, they said. But they said troops were hitting the western district of Mezzeh with heavy machineguns and anti-aircraft guns overnight.
A resident who toured much of Damascus late on Thursday said he saw signs the government’s presence was diminishing, with only sporadic checkpoints and tanks in place in some areas. The Interior Ministry at the main Marjeh Square had a fraction of its usual contingent of guards still in place.
Shelling could be heard on the southwestern suburb of Mouadamiyeh from hills overlooking the city where the Fourth Division, commanded by Assad’s brother Maher, is based, he said.
Syrian television showed the bodies of about 20 men in T-shirts and jeans with weapons lying at their sides, sprawled across a road in the capital’s Qaboun district. It described them as terrorists killed in battle.
On Thursday, the rebel Free Syrian Army controlled at least two border crossings into Turkey at Bab al-Hawa and Jarablus and one border crossing with Iraq.
The operations to seize the border checkpoints appear to show a level of coordination and effectiveness hitherto unseen from the rebels, who have been outgunned and outnumbered by the army throughout the 16-month conflict.
Footage filmed by rebels at the Bab al-Hawa crossing with Turkey showed them climbing onto rooftops and tearing up a poster of Assad.
“The crossing is under our control. They withdrew their armored vehicles,” said a rebel fighter who would only be identified as Ali, being treated for wounds on the Turkish side.
Two officers in the rebel Free Syrian Army said fighters were keeping themselves busy into the early hours of Friday, dismantling border computer systems, seizing security records and emptying the shelves of the duty-free shop.
At least 30 government tanks in the area had not mobilized to try to recapture the border post, according to Ahmad Zaidan, a senior Free Syrian Army commander.
Officials in neighboring Lebanon said refugees were pouring across the frontier: a security source said 20,000 Syrians had crossed on Thursday.
Diplomacy has been largely ineffective throughout the crisis, with Western countries condemning Assad but showing no stomach for the sort of robust intervention that saw NATO bombers help blast Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi from power last year.
Russia and China on Thursday vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution threatening sanctions against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad if he did not end the use of heavy weapons against an uprising, drawing sharp criticism from Western powers.
It was the third time in nine months that Russia and China wielded their veto power. As two of the five permanent members of the 15-nation council, the two countries can block any U.N. resolution.