Middle East

Syrian crisis: Fresh fighting hits Damascus and Aleppo

A mosque damaged by what activists say is shelling by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, is seen at Faylon near Idlib on 3 August 2012
Image caption Most of the areas of the biggest cities where rebels are entrenched have come under bombardment

Fresh fighting has been reported around Syria's capital, Damascus, and in the northern city of Aleppo, where rebels are trying to secure their positions.

Most areas of Aleppo where rebels are entrenched have been bombarded by government forces and clashes have been reported in several districts.

The violence comes after a UN General Assembly vote to criticise the Security Council for failing to act on Syria.

Meanwhile, Iranian state media say 48 Iranian pilgrims have been kidnapped.

The pilgrims were abducted from a bus near the Sayeda Zeinab shrine outside Damascus, which is holy to Shia Muslims, Iranian media reports say.

Iranian officials blamed "terrorists" for the abduction.

In Damascus, fighting was reported in the Tadamon district on the southern edge of the city, which was earlier stormed by government forces.

Shooting and explosions were also heard in central parts of the capital, as well as in western areas, in and around Dumar.

Video footage posted by activists showed a military jet flying over what they said was the rebel-held quarter of Salah al-Din in Aleppo followed by a loud explosion.

Activists reported clashes in several areas, including around the officers' club and a security headquarters.

But the regime has yet to unleash a concerted offensive to drive rebels out of Aleppo. UN officials believe the government is building up its forces for just such a campaign to regain control of a city it cannot afford to lose, the BBC's Jim Muir in neighbouring Lebanon reports.

Kim Sengupta of the UK's Independent newspaper told the BBC from Aleppo that there are two front lines in the city, one in Salah al-Din and one near the ancient iron gate.

There have been skirmishes in which rebels have done rather well, he says, seizing three police stations and retaking a fourth on Friday, and rebels are "incrementally" increasing the size of the area they hold.

The rebels have "remarkable" defence capability in Salah al-Din where government tanks had been trying to enter, but as an area full of narrow twisting lanes, it is perfect for guerrilla warfare, he adds.

However, the full thrust of the armour and the artillery from the regime side has not been seen yet, he adds.


Earlier, Russia and China condemned the UN resolution passed on Friday, saying that it undermined peace efforts.

Moscow's UN envoy, Vitaly Churkin, told reporters the resolution was one-sided and supported the armed opposition.

Western nations praised the resolution, which passed by 133 votes to 12 with 31 abstentions.

It criticises both the UN's own Security Council and the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for its use of violence.

The assembly debated the resolution, which was proposed by Saudi Arabia, shortly after the resignation of UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan and the failure of his six-point peace plan.

Activists say more than 20,000 people - mostly civilians - have died in 17 months of unrest.

Map showing camps for Syrian refugees. Total refugees: 235,368; Lebanon: 59,111; Turkey: 80,410; Jordan: 77,165; Iraq: 18,682. Source: UNHCR and Turkey, September 2012