Daraya, Damascus suburb, reportedly latest front in Syria unrest (VIDEO)


A member of the Free Syrian Army holds a burning portrait of embattled President Bashar al-Assad in Al-Qsair on January 25, 2012.


Alessio Romenzi

Intense fighting has been reported in the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Daraya, reported Al Jazeera, citing activists. 

The clashes pitted rebel militias against forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as part of a nearly two-year uprising against his rule. At least 60,000 people have been killed in the violence, according to the United Nations. 

The fighting got so intense in Daraya that Assad had to bring in reinforcements, said Al Jazeera. A Western diplomat speaking on the condition of anonymity explained the significance of events there to The Christian Science Monitor, saying: 

“The regime and its supporters [Russia and Iran] are investing all in the counterattack [on Daraya] to ensure Mr. Assad’s grip on power. But if it fails, the regime will be in a very difficult position, internally and externally,” 

Daraya, which lies about five miles southwest of the capital, is now under rebel control, but Assad's forces have reportedly brought in tanks in an effort to reclaim it.

They lost the strategic suburb to rebels in bloody battles last summer; one four-day period in August saw 300 to 600 civilians killed, according to GlobalPost's reporters there

Andrew Tabler, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told the Monitor why Daraya is getting all the attention: 

"The regime losing [the battle for] Daraya would give the opposition a strategic advantage, and that's why [the regime] wants to focus power on it and has done so for a long time and that's why the opposition is fighting back so hard ... What's interesting is that despite the use of special forces and despite the concentration on Daraya, they are unable [so far] to clear and hold the area."

Daraya also lies near the Mezze military airport — a key supply link following the closure of the Damascus International Airport in November, said the Monitor, adding that Daraya is also a critical link to opposition efforts to unite areas under their control. 

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which claims even-handed reporting on regime and rebel movements, also confirmed the fighting in Daraya: "Fierce battles pitted troops against rebels on the road linking Damascus to Daraa, in the Qadam district and in Daraya," according to Al Jazeera

Here's a recent video from on the ground in Syria from Agence-France Press: