Syrian military activity near Damascus on Saturday targeted groups rebelling again the regime of President Bashar Assad. Amateur video showed about a dozen wounded men and women and at least three children being treated at a hospital.
BEIRUT — Syrian troops raided an opposition stronghold near the capital on Saturday, killing rebels and uncovering tunnels they used to move around and smuggle weapons, the state-run news agency said.
SANA said three tunnels were discovered after clashes in Daraya, just south of the capital, Damascus. Syrian troops have been trying to capture Daraya for weeks, but have faced strong resistance from hundreds of rebels trying to overthrow President Bashar Assad.
The rebels have used Damascus suburbs to stage attacks on nearby government facilities.
The conflict in Syria began nearly two years ago after a peaceful uprising against Assad turned violent. The unrest was inspired by the Arab Spring wave of revolutions that toppled leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen.
More than 60,000 have been killed since the fighting began in March 2011, according to the U.N. Since then, the Syrian opposition has taken control of wide swathes of territory, mostly in the north near Syria's border with Turkey.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported an air raid Saturday on the northern town of Al-Bab, which killed at least four people and wounded others.
Amateur video posted online showed about a dozen wounded men and women and at least two boys and a girl being treated at a hospital. "Oh God help us. They are children," a man could be heard saying as a doctor cut the clothes of a boy to expose his wound.
The Observatory and another activist group, the Local Coordination Committees, also reported shelling and air raids in other Damascus suburbs, including Shebaa and Aqraba near the international airport. The LCC also said rebels fired several rockets from Daraya toward Assad's People's Palace on Qasioun Mountain, overlooking the capital.
It released a video showing a masked man firing at least one small rocket from the roof of a building near the palace. Syrian officials have previously denied claims by rebels that rockets have targeted the palace — one of three mansions Assad uses in the capital.
The videos appeared genuine and correspond to reporting done by The Associated Press.
Daraya is flanked by districts that are home to a military air base, the government headquarters, the intelligence agency's head office and the Interior Ministry.
The Observatory said troops bombarded southern neighborhoods of the capital and have witnessed anti-government activities for months. It said a rebel was killed in Damascus during clashes with pro-regime gunmen in the neighborhood of Tishrin.
The activist groups also reported heavy clashes in the central city of Homs and the nearby town of Qusair, which is close to the border with Lebanon, and near a prison in the northwestern city of Idlib.
The United Nations said a record number of Syrians streamed into Jordan this month, doubling the population of the kingdom's already-cramped refugee camp to 65,000. Over 30,000 people arrived in Zaatari in January — 6,000 in the past two days alone, the U.N. said.
The newcomers are mostly families, women, children and elderly who fled from southern Syria, said Melissa Fleming, spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. She said the UNHCR was working with the Jordanian government to open a second major camp nearby by the end of this month.
Many of the new arrivals at Zaatari are from the southern town of Daraa, where the uprising against Assad first erupted nearly two years ago, the Britain-based organization Save the Children said Friday.
Five buses, crammed with "frightened and exhausted people who fled with what little they could carry," pull up every hour at the camp, said Saba al-Mobasat, an aid worker with Save the Children.
Last month, the UNHCR said it needed $1 billion to aid Syrians in the Mideast, and that half of that money was required to help refugees in Jordan.
The agency says 597,240 refugees have registered or are awaiting registration with the UNHCR in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. Some countries have higher estimates, noting many Syrians have found accommodations without registering, relying on their own resources and savings.
In Turkey, U.S. officials announced that the United States was providing an additional $10 million in assistance to help supply flour to bakeries in the Aleppo region.
Nancy Lindborg, assistant administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development, said the aid would help provide daily bread for about 210,000 people for the next five months.
She said that with the new assistance, the United States was providing a total of $220 million to help Syrians.
"Too many people — an unconscionable number of Syrians — are not able to get daily bread, in addition to other supplies," Lindborg told journalists after a visit to a Syrian refugee camp near Turkey's border with Syria.
In a rare gesture, Syria's Interior Ministry called on those who fled the country during the civil war to return, including regime opponents. It said the government will help hundreds of thousands of citizens return whether they left "legally or illegally."
Syrian opposition figures abroad who want to take part in reconciliation talks will also be allowed back, according to a ministry statement carried late Thursday by the state SANA news agency.
If they "have the desire to participate in the national dialogue, they would be allowed to enter Syria," it said.
The proposed talks are part of Assad's initiative to end the conflict that started as peaceful protests in March 2011 but turned into a civil war. Tens of thousands of activists, their family members and opposition supporters remain jailed by the regime, according to international activist groups.
Opposition leaders repeatedly have rejected any talks that include Assad, insisting he must step down. The international community backs that demand, but Assad has clung to power, vowing to crush the armed opposition.
Associated Press writers Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria; Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey; and Zeina Karam in Beirut contributed to this report.
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