Defectors attack Syrian army base

Defectors attack Syrian army base

Strike is believed to be the closest ever on Assads seat of power in Damascus

A grab from an amateur video shows a boy throwing an object at a vehicle as a tank burns in Daraa on Monday. AP

The Free Syrian Army said in a statement that its main pre-dawn attack targeted a compound run by the Air Force Intelligence in the Damascus suburb of Harasta. Defectors also hit military checkpoints in the Damascus suburbs of Douma, Qaboun and Arabeen and Saqba.

The Air Force Intelligence is one of the country’s most powerful and feared security agencies and has played a major role in the regime’s bloody crackdown against the 8-month-old uprising. The strike was believed to be the closest yet to Assad’s seat of power in Damascus, where the loyal and well-equipped Republican Guards hold sway.

Wednesday’s attacks could not be independently confirmed and the Free Syrian Army released no details about the fighting or possible casualties. But a Syrian opposition figure said the operation in Harasta was carried out by defectors who broke attacked the compound from three sides with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled-grenades. He added that the administrative building was damaged and the attackers made sure not to hit a nearby building where detainees were being held.

The opposition figure, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss military operations, said all the defectors’ troops safely returned. He quoted residents in the area as saying that ambulances rushed to the military compound after the attack.

The attacks came hours before foreign ministers from the 22-member Arab League, who have gathered in Morocco, were expected to formalise their weekend decision to suspend Syria for refusing to end its crackdown against anti-government protesters.

Violence has continued unabated since Syria agreed on November 2 to an Arab peace deal that called for halt to violence against protesters, pull tanks and armored vehicles out of cities, release political prisoners and allow access to journalists and rights groups.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 11 people were killed Wednesday, including seven in the central province of Homs. It said that four others, including three defectors, were killed in the central province of Hama after they were ambushed by troops loyal to Assad. The Local Coordination Committees, another activist group said six people have been so far killed on Wednesday, three in Homs, two in Idlib and one in the Damascus suburb of Zabadani.

Attacks by army defectors are rare near Damascus, and clashes between defectors and troops in the past have been concentrated in the northwestern province of Idlib, the central region of Homs and the southern province of Daraa.

On Monday, defectors killed 34 soldiers in Daraa, in one of their bloodiest attacks.