Syrian troops backed by armored vehicles entered on Monday the district of Midan in central Damascus to drive out rebels who have secured a foothold at a striking distance from major state installations, neighborhood activists said.
In the biggest armored deployment in Damascus in the 17-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, infantry fighting vehicles took positions along the main thoroughfares of Midan, a strategic Sunni Muslim neighborhood, as rebels withdrew to alleyways and sporadic fighting was reported, they said.
"There are clashes now in Midan and Zahera, two cars were
burned," said one activist who was close to the scene.
On a separate note, various Syrian Dailies reported
that the Syrian government will soon raise the price of diesel oil by 15% per
liter. This is the second price increase of its kind in two months.
In international positions, Foreign
Minister Sergei Lavrov signaled no change in Russia's position on the conflict
on Syria on Monday before talks in Moscow with U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan.
Lavrov reiterated Moscow's opposition to
a resolution being discussed by the U.N. Security Council on extending a
monitoring mission in Syria which includes a threat of sanctions.
He told a news conference that such
threats contained "elements of blackmail".
Former French Foreign
Minister Alain Juppe condemned the “criminal stance” of Russia, calling on all
parties to condemn it.
For his part, the Jordanian Prime
Minister announced that dialogue is no longer a solution to the Syrian crisis,
adding “the Security Council must intervene”.
On a separate note, the adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki,
Ali al-Moussawi, announced on Monday that Baghdad will hunt down the defected
former Syrian ambassador to Iraq after he admitted that he helped Jihadist
units move from Syria to Iraq.
Meanwhile, the Syrian government declared on
Monday the Moroccan ambassador an unwelcome person in the country in response
to Rabat's decision to expel its envoy.
This as Morocco earlier asked
the Syrian ambassador to leave the North African country calling for a
transition to democracy that would meet the Syrian people's aspirations for
Separately, a senior U.N. aid official said on Monday that Syria is refusing to grant visas to Western aid workers "but the United Nations is trying to overcome its objections so as to expand its humanitarian operation in the face of growing needs."
"We have a number of visas pending for international staff from a number of Western countries - the United States, Canada, the U.K., France and one or two more - that are refused their visas because of their nationalities," John Ging told reporters in Geneva. "That is something we object to very strongly and are working with the Syrian government to overcome."