Syrian troops have stormed into two Damascus districts in search of opposition fighters, killing at least 23 suspected rebels, activists said.
Regime forces rained mortars down on the upmarket Kafar Soussa neighbourhood and the adjacent Nahr Eishah area at daybreak, according to activists.
The attacks may have been designed to kill or capture rebel mortar teams who have used the two neighbourhoods in recent days to target the city’s Mazzeh military airport, activists said.
The violence is part of a dramatic surge in fighting over the past month in Damascus, which is just one of many fronts president Bashar Assad’s regime is struggling to contain as the rebellion against his rule gains strength. Government forces are also engaged in a major battle for control of the northern city of Aleppo as well as smaller scale operations in the south, east and central regions.
An activist, who only wanted to be identified by the name Bassam for fear of retribution, said 11 people were killed in Kafar Soussa and that as many as 22 tanks stormed the district with about 20 soldiers on foot behind each one.
The British-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll in Kafar Soussa at 12.
Bassam and the observatory also reported heavy government shelling of Nahr Eishah. They said regime forces then conducted house-to-house raids in search of rebels. Bassam said as many as 12 people were killed in Nahr Eishah, while the observatory had no word on casualties.
It was not clear whether those killed in the two areas died in the shelling or later. Other activists spoke of execution-style killings in both areas.
Syria’s ongoing civil war has its roots in a mostly peaceful uprising against Assad’s regime that began in March last year. The uprising grew increasingly violent as the regime employed brutal methods to suppress street protests, including the use of live ammunition and the detention and torture of thousands.