Syria Crisis: Khan Sheikhoun Under Army Control; Violence In Damascus

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BEIRUT, July 6 (Reuters) - Syria's army took control of the rebel stronghold of Khan Sheikhoun in northern Idlib province on Friday after an assault on the town backed by helicopters, an insurgent spokesman said.

Fighting also erupted between Free Syrian Army rebels and loyalist forces in the Kfar Souseh quarter of central Damascus after security forces moved in to stop a protest against President Bashar al-Assad near the Nouaim mosque. The district is home to major intelligence and secret police installations.

"The Free Army withdrew from the town (Khan Sheikhoun) last night after it ran out of ammunition. Assad's army is in control of it," said Abu Hamam, a rebel spokesman. "They are burning the houses. They have burned my own house. I see the smoke covering the sky from where I am now," he said.

Khan Sheikhoun, a town of more than 70,000 people in rural Idlib province, straddles the western highway linking Damascus to Aleppo. It has been one of many fronts contested by the Syrian army which aims to crush a 16-month revolt against Assad.

Activists say 80 percent of residents have now fled.

The rebels said they had suffered heavy losses in battles which intensified on Wednesday night.

"This is a very fierce operation that is going on now. It seems Assad has sent all of his army to crush Khan Sheikhoun and the towns around it," Abu Hamam said.

In the Damascus district, explosions were heard from fields near the mosque and at least two armoured vehicles moved to the area, according to opposition activists. They said six people had been injured, one critically.

"Automatic rifles and machineguns are being used," a witness said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Government intelligence and secret police installations in the Kfar Souseh district are now ringed with concrete barriers and walls. Residents say fighting there has become more frequent and more fierce in the past two weeks.

Security forces also fired at an anti-Assad demonstration in the al-Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp on the southern edge of Damascus and casualties were reported, opposition sources in Damascus told Reuters.

Government forces also fired mortar rounds at the rebellious Qadam neighbourhood on the edge of city and at the suburb of Daraya. No casualty figures have yet come in, the sources said.

In western Syria, army artillery was reported to be shelling the town of Madaya in the Sunni Muslim Zabadani region in the foothills of the mountain range that separates Syria from Lebanon, according to opposition campaigners from the region. (Reporting by Mariam Karouny and Khaled Yacoub Oweis; Editing by Douglas Hamilton and Andrew Osborn)

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syria car bomb Syrian policemen inspect the site of a car bomb explosion on Mazzeh highway in the capital Damascus on July 13, 2012. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/GettyImages)

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U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice tweets:

@ AmbassadorRice : #Syria regime turned artillery, tanks and helicopters on its own men & women. It unleashed knife-wielding shabiha gangs on its own children.

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Russia says international envoy Kofi Annan will visit Moscow on Monday to discuss the ongoing crisis in Syria. Russia also called for an inquiry into an alleged massacre that took place in the village of Tramseh on Thursday. "We have no doubt that this wrongdoing serves the interests of those powers that are not seeking peace but persistently seek to sow the seeds of interconfessional and civilian conflict on Syrian soil," Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement, according to Reuters. Moscow did not apportion blame for the killings.


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The Associated Press obtained a video that purports to show the aftermath of an alleged massacre in the village of Tramseh, near Hama.

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How do Syria's fighters get their arms? An overview put together by Reuters explains that there are three gateways to the country -- Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq.

Syrian rebels are smuggling small arms into Syria through a network of land and sea routes involving cargo ships and trucks moving through Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq, maritime intelligence and Free Syrian Army (FSA) officers say.

Western and regional powers deny any suggestion they are involved in gun running. Their interest in the sensitive border region lies rather in screening to ensure powerful weapons such as surface to air missiles do not find their way to Islamist or other militants.

Read the full report here.

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syria This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a victim wounded by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. The accounts, some of which claim more than 200 people were killed in the violence Thursday, could not be independently confirmed, but would mark the latest in a string of brutal offensives by Syrian forces attempting to crush the rebellion. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)

syria This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a man mourning a victim killed by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)

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According to the Hama Revolutionary Council, a Syrian opposition group, more than 220 people have been killed in a new alleged massacre in Taramseh. Earlier reports said more than 100 people were killed. "More than 220 people fell today in Taramseh," the Council said in a statement. "They died from bombardment by tanks and helicopters, artillery shelling and summary executions."

Fadi Sameh, an opposition activist from Taramseh, told Reuters he had left the town before the reported massacre but was in touch with residents. "It appears that Alawite militiamen from surrounding villages descended on Taramseh after its rebel defenders pulled out, and started killing the people. Whole houses have been destroyed and burned from the shelling," Sameh claimed.


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Syrian activist Rami Jarrah tweets that Syrian State TV has confirmed deaths in Tremseh. "Terrorists" is often the term used by the Syrian regime for opposition forces.

@ AlexanderPageSY : Syrian State TV: clashes between security apparatus & terrorists in #Tremseh of #Hama leaves large numbers of terrorists killed #Syria

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@ Reuters : At least 100 killed in Syrian village: opposition activists

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