MARCH 19 2012 05:29h
Rebel leader blames Assad for fatal blasts
The fighting was concentrated in the neighborhood of Mazzeh, southwest of central Damascus, with at least three major blasts and persistent gunfire heard before dawn, the Local Coordination Committees of Syria said on its Facebook page.
Mazzeh held the notorious Mazzeh Prison until 2000. Widespread human-rights abuses and torture were reported committed in the prison, most notoriously from 1970 to 2000, during the rule of President Hafez Assad, father of current President Bashar Assad.
The prison closed in 2000.
The presidential palace in on the top of Mount Mazzeh, overlooking Damascus.
The Local Coordination Committees also reported violence early Monday elsewhere around the capital, including "intense shooting" in suburban Dummar and Keswa "from the security checkpoints all over the city."
The fighting followed two deadly car blasts in Damascus Saturday and another one in Syria's largest city, Aleppo, Sunday that killed at least 30 people.
A rebel leader blamed the Assad regime for the blasts, as a U.N.-Arab League team arrived in Syria to set up a monitoring mission.
"This is the regime's game. This is how they play their dirty tricks. They carry out these types of explosions from time to time to get more international support and compassion," Capt. Ammar al-Wawi of the rebel Free Syria Army told CNN Sunday.
"They are desperately trying to prove to the world that they are fighting against armed gangs, but the reality is they are the ones who are doing all the killings," he said.
A car-bomb explosion in a Christian neighborhood of Aleppo killed at least three people and wounded about 25 others Sunday, the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The blast, near a church in Aleppo's Sulaimaniya neighborhood, ripped the facade off a residential building, the official Syrian Arab News Agency said, calling the blast a "terrorist bombing."
The bombing came a day after two cars exploded in crowded areas in the capital, Damascus, Saturday, killing 27 people and injuring 140 others, SANA said.
The regime blamed "terrorists" for those explosions too.
A crowd of about 200 gathered in Damascus Sunday for a memorial to Saturday's victims. But when some people began shouting "the people want to topple the regime" -- a phrase that has echoed through the wave of Arab uprisings that began last year -- uniformed officers and men in plain clothes beat them with sticks and made arrests, activists and witnesses told al-Jazeera and The New York Times.
Syrian authorities also briefly detained 11 members of one of Syria's most moderate opposition groups, the Times said.
The group, the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change in Syria, has called for dialogue with the regime and, unlike other activist groups, has opposed the use of violence in the yearlong uprising.
Despite the crackdown, he group would not change its non-violent stance, Haitham al-Manna, the group's exiled leader, told the Times from Paris.
"We're witnessing the failure of military solutions," he said. "The country has become militarized up to its head. There are people in this opposition who are ready to kill their neighbors."
At least 67 people, including two children and seven Free Syria Army soldiers, were killed in clashes throughout Syria Sunday, the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria said.
It was impossible to confirm casualty reports because the Assad regime has severely restricted international press access.
The International Committee of the Red Cross president, meanwhile, said humanitarian conditions in opposition flashpoint areas -- including Homs, Idlib, Hama and Daraa -- were "extremely difficult" and could "deteriorate further."
"People have been suffering for several months in some areas, with women and children particularly affected," Jakob Kellenberger, a former Swiss diplomat, said in a statement as he prepared to ask Russia Monday to help persuade the Assad regime to let humanitarian aid into the country.
"A daily cessation in the fighting for a period of at least 2 hours remains essential in order for emergency medical evacuations to take place safely and for aid to reach vulnerable people swiftly," he said in a statement before meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow.
Joint U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan said getting "unimpeded access" for humanitarian relief was a key part of his job to find a peaceful solution to the yearlong violence.
A team he set up to discuss arrangements for an international monitoring mission in Syria was to arrive in Damascus Monday.
Annan said he sent the team despite receiving a "disappointing" response from Syria to "six-point proposals" he discussed with Assad in Damascus March 10-11.
He didn't describe Assad's response, but the Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar reported the response required opposition groups to guarantee they would give up their arms first, neighboring countries pledge to stop smuggling arms and fighters into Syria and countries funding the Syrian opposition assure Assad they would stop.
If those conditions are met, Assad will order his forces to cease fire, the newspaper said, citing a letter from Syria sent last week after Annan left Damascus.
Washington and Europe have demanded Syrian forces stop fighting first. Russia has called on both sides to lay down their arms simultaneously.
DAMASCUS, Syria, March 19 (UPI) -- Heavy fighting between rebel fighters and forces loyal to the Assad regime broke out in a heavily guarded area of Damascus, Syria, early Monday, activists said.