Syrian security forces have confronted fighters who infiltrated the capital Damascus and forced many of them to flee, Information Minister Omran Zoabi said on Tuesday, denying media reports which he said "do not reflect facts on the ground".
"What is happening is that some armed elements infiltrated Damascus and tried to make a move in one of the areas. But the security forces surrounded them and dealt with them - and are still dealing with them," he told Reuters.
"Some (fighters) have surrendered and others escaped on foot and by car and are firing randomly in the air to frighten people," Zoabi said.
Syrian rebels said they had shot down an army helicopter over the Damascus district of Qaboun on Tuesday, the third day of fierce fighting in the Syrian capital between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and his opponents.
"Helicopters are flying at low altitude. It's easy to target them using anti-aircraft weapons," a senior rebel officer told Reuters.
The Free Syrian Army said on Tuesday that the "battle for the
liberation of Damascus has begun”.
The central Homs-based spokesman for the FSA's Joint Command, Colonel
Kassem Saadeddine said the fighting will not stop until the whole of the
capital has been conquered.
"We have transferred the battle from Damascus province to the
capital," said Saadeddine. "We have a clear plan to control the whole
of Damascus. We only have light weapons, but it's enough."
Earlier in the day, U.N. leader Ban Ki-moon headed to China as global
powers ramp up efforts to respond to spiraling violence in Syria.
The official People's Daily newspaper ran a commentary Tuesday opposing
force against Syria and calling for a political solution, a sign that China may
again block the resolution.
Ban has warned that inaction would be "license for further
Syria’s letter to Ban
In a letter addressed to the UN Chief, Damascus called on the United
Nations to exercise neutrality in dealing with the situation in Syria and
contribute to the solution based on dialogue away from foreign intervention
which prolongs the crisis and destabilizes the country.
The ministry asked in its report to put an end to foreign interference
in the affairs of Syria's internal affairs "and to stop its support of
armed terrorist groups” and considered that “some countries seek to prolong the
uprising in Syria to serve their political interest”.
For its part, the US Department of State announced its fear of violence
spilling over from Syria to the rest of the region. Similarly the Pentagon also
said that Syria’s security now tops its list of concerns.
In turn, defected former ambassador to Syria in Iraq, Nawwaf al-Fares
said that he fears that President Bashar Assad may resort to chemical warfare
to fight off the opposition uprising in Syria.
Meanwhile, Iraq called on Tuesday on its citizens living in Syria to
return home because of escalating violence in its neighbor.
The Iraqi cabinet voiced
concern about the "increasing incidents of murder and assault on Iraqis
living in Syria," government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said in a statement.
"The Iraqi government
calls on them to come home," the statement said, adding that Iraqi
authorities would secure all means for their return from Syria
On the field
Meanwhile, it has been reported that the Syrian consulate in Almaty, the
largest city in Kazakhstan, sustained serious damage after a fire gnawed at its
structure for hours. Workers say that the flare may have been deliberately set
in reaction to escalating violence in Damascus. There was no immediate comment
from the local police.
This as Syrian rebels fired grenades at tanks and troops while regime
armor shelled Damascus neighborhoods on Monday, sending terrified families
fleeing the most sustained and widespread fighting in the capital since the
start of the uprising 16 months ago.
A ring of fierce clashes nearly encircled the heavily guarded capital as
rebels seeking to overthrow President Bashar Assad pushed the civil war that
has been building in Syria's impoverished provinces closer to the seat of
While the clashes were focused in a string of neighborhoods in the
city's southwest, for many of its 4 million people the violence brought scarily
close to home the strife that has deeply scarred other Syrian cities.
Syria's violence has grown
increasingly bloody as the uprising has morphed from a peaceful protest
movement into an armed insurgency.