Over thirty killed in Syria battles as Gaza's Hamas denies involvement
Reuters and AFPGAZA CITY/BEIRUT--Syrian rebels blew up an army checkpoint outside Damascus on Saturday and more than 30 combatants from both sides died in the blast and ensuing clashes, a monitoring group said.
October 20, 2013, 12:01 am TWN
The pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 15 rebels and at least 16 soldiers were killed.
Elsewhere near the capital, Syrian forces tried to storm the suburb of Mouadamiya, which the army has blockaded for months, leading to a rising death toll from hunger and malnutrition.
The British-based Observatory said the checkpoint explosion, near the suburbs of Mleiha and Jaramana, was detonated by a suicide bomber from the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front.
Nusra supporters on Twitter, however, said the bomber had intended to blow himself up in the car, but instead got out before setting off the explosives inside. They said rebel forces had captured the checkpoint hit by the car bomb and were battling to take a second one nearby.
Syrian state television reported the blast but gave no death toll, saying only that several people had been killed or wounded in a “terrorist bombing.”
The Observatory, which has a network of activists across Syria, said Syrian fighter jets retaliated by striking nearby opposition-held areas such as Mleiha.
Video uploaded by activists showed a huge column of smoke billowing up from the scene and the sound of fighter jets streaking overhead could be heard.
Rebels also fired rockets into Jaramana, a suburb held by the government, according to the Observatory. It said the air force carried out four strikes on adjacent rebel-held districts.
Hamas Denies Taking Part In Egypt, Syria Fighting
The Gaza Strip's Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya on Saturday denied reports that his Islamist militant group was involved in fighting in the neighboring Egyptian Sinai or in Syria.
“We did not interfere in the affairs of any country and are not involved in the events or differences or internal conflicts of any country,” Haniya said.
“This (is) our position regarding what has happened and is happening in Syria, Egypt, Lebanon and all Arab and Islamic countries,” he said.
Civilians Seek Escape Route
In Mouadamiya, activists said they were facing heavy bombardment during an assault by Assad's forces. The army had advanced, but had yet to enter the suburb, said Qusair Zakariya, an activist there.
“Our rebels are fighting hard to repel the regime ... We've been doing our best to try to evacuate civilians from the western front of the town because they're now exposed to shelling and tank fire,” he said, speaking by Skype over audible bursts of rocket fire.
Like most rebel enclaves in the suburbs that ring Damascus, Mouadamiya has been under an army-imposed siege for months, causing a particularly acute shortage of food and supplies.
Doctors in the town have reported an increasing number of deaths from malnutrition, especially among children.
The United States condemned the siege on Friday, saying the Assad government had only allowed a limited number of civilians to escape from Mouadamiya and that it must allow food, water and medicine to reach those still inside.
“We also warn the regime ... not to use limited evacuations of civilians as an excuse to attack those residents who remain behind,” it said. “The regime's deliberate prevention of the delivery of life-saving humanitarian supplies to thousands of civilians is unconscionable.”