Beirut. A surprise assault by lightly armed Syrian insurgents on a Republican Guard base in Damascus, just a few miles from the presidential palace, elicited a furious military response on Tuesday, with government forces shelling surrounding neighborhoods in an escalation that brought combat in the Syrian conflict close to the heart of the capital.
Antigovernment activists estimated that at least 33 people were killed in the artillery barrages of the Damascus suburb of Qudssaya aimed at the Free Syrian Army insurgents, less than three miles northwest of President Bashar Assad’s official residence, and on Barzeh in northern Damascus, about three miles northeast.
Assad, in remarks to his Cabinet reported by the official SANA news agency, did not explicitly acknowledge the proximity of the fighting, but said “we live in a state of war.” As such, he said, “all our policies, directives and all sectors will be directed in order to gain victory in this war.” Previously, he had characterized the 16-month-old uprising as a crime wave by foreign-backed terrorists.
In an apparently unrelated development, a Syrian Air Force lieutenant general was kidnapped by armed men from his home in Damascus, according to Syrian state television, who identified him as Lt. Gen. Farage Shihada al-Maqat.
He was abducted in the Adawi neighborhood of Damascus, an exclusive area where dignitaries and Russian advisers live. If the report is true, al-Maqat would be the highest-ranking officer to be kidnapped or killed since the uprising began. More than 13 generals are among a wave of high-ranking officers who have defected to the opposition recently.
The developments came as the UN Security Council met in attempts to devise a new strategy on Syria, where diplomacy has repeatedly failed, and as Turkey, a supporter of the Free Syrian Army and other groups fighting to overthrow Assad, issued a bellicose new warning to Syria after the disputed downing of a Turkish warplane by Syria last Friday.
Bolstered by unanimous support from Turkey’s NATO allies, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Syrian forces should avoid the Turkish border.
The assault in Damascus on the Republican Guard base began on Monday night and was intended as only a probing attack, according to a lieutenant of the Free Syrian Army whose unit carried it out and who was interviewed by Skype.
The New York Times