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The GuardianJune 9, 2012

Lebanonwire

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Syria clashes kill at least 17 in Deraa, reports say
Rebels and forces loyal to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad clash amid shelling of southern city's Mahata neighbourhood

Conal Urquhart and agencies

Demonstrators protest at Bashar al-Assad's regime near Deraa.

At least 17 people have been killed after the Syrian army shelled the southern city of Deraa, according to opposition activists.

The death toll in Deraa, where the uprising against Bashar al-Assad's regime first began in March 2011, was reported by the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

A Deraa-based activist, Adel al-Omari said the shelling of the city's Mahata area began on Friday evening and continued into Saturday morning. "People were taken by surprise while in their homes," he said.

Damascus resident and activist Maath al-Shami said clashes between rebels and troops in the city's neighbourhoods of Qaboun and Barzeh lasted until about 1.30am on Saturday.

On Friday, government troops clashed with rebels from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in Damascus' Kfar Souseh district in some of the worst fighting yet in the capital. Since the start of the uprising, Damascus has suffered sporadic outbreaks of violence and bombings.

"Yesterday was a turning point in the conflict," al-Shami told AP via Skype. "There were clashes in Damascus that lasted hours. The battle is in Damascus now."

Al-Shami added that troops shelled Qaboun and Barzeh with tanks until after midnight on Friday and that at least four people were killed.

Another resident in the capital, who refused to be identified for fear of reprisals, said he had spent a night "in fear" and that the shooting and explosions were the worst so far.

None of the claims could be independently verified.

On Friday international journalists and UN monitors visited the village of al-Qubair, where residents were reportedly massacred. Witnesses described seeing body parts and pools of blood, but not bodies. There was evidence of the tracks of military vehicles around the village.

The Channel 4 journalist Alex Thompson claimed on Friday that the FSA tried to get him and his colleagues killed by deliberately directing them into government firing lines. He believed that the rebels considered a dead western journalist would strengthen their cause and look very bad for the Assad regime.

The Committee for the Protection of Journalists said on Friday that five journalists had been killed in recent weeks in unpublicised incidents.

Three journalists who worked for Shaam News Network, the citizen news organization responsible for a lot of YouTube footage from Syria, were killed on 27 May while they filmed clashes between security forces and rebels in Damascus.

Ammar Mohamed Suhail Zado, the director of Shaam in Homs; Ahmed Adnan al-Ashlaq, a correspondent; and Lawrence Fahmy al-Naimi, the head of live streaming for the network, were filming the clashes from an apartment in the al-Midan neighbourhood when their building was shelled by security forces.

Two more journalists were killed the next day. Bassel al-Shahade, a citizen journalist and filmmaker, along with Ahmed al-Assam, his cameraman, who was also known as Ahmed Abu Ibrahim, were filming the unrest in Homs when they were killed by government shelling in the neighbourhood of Safsafa on 28 May, according to news reports. Al-Shahade and al-Assam were filming incursions by security forces when they were killed by a shell that hit their car.

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