Middle East

Syria conflict: Fierce clashes erupt south of Damascus

Syrian soldiers in the Damascus suburb of Sbeineh (7 November 2013)
Image caption Government troops have taken control of four rebel areas in recent weeks

There have been fierce clashes on the outskirts of Syria's capital, Damascus, as government forces continue their offensive on opposition-held areas.

The fighting between rebels and troops on Tuesday centred on the southern suburb of Hajira, activists said.

Last week, the government recaptured the nearby town of Sbeineh, one of the most important rebel positions.

Meanwhile, mortars were fired at several government-held districts of Damascus, state media said.

Ten people were wounded when shells hit the office of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) near the Central Bank of Syria in the Mazraa district, the pro-government militant group said.

Elsewhere, mortar fire wounded six others near a hospital and a market.

Four children and their bus driver were killed on Monday when mortars hit their school bus as it took them home to the predominantly Christian area of Bab Sharqi, in the east of the Old City.

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Media captionBBC reporter Lyse Doucet: "As grief grows, so does anger, on both sides of this conflict"

Also on Tuesday, officials from the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) said it was in talks with the Syrian government about ending a siege that has prompted tens of thousands of Palestinians to flee the Yarmouk refugee camp in the south of Damascus.

Pro-rebel Palestinian factions like Hamas have been holed up inside the camp for months, resisting efforts by pro-government groups such as the PFLP-GC and al-Saiqa to eject them.

The Sana state news agency and the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a truce had already been brokered to end the fighting.

Alternative governments

In a separate development, the main opposition alliance named a provisional government to administer rebel-held areas.

The Western-backed National Coalition has struggled for months to form an interim government.

The current prime minister, Ahmed Tomeh, was appointed in September after his predecessor resigned, having failed to form a cabinet and co-ordinate the provision of basic services and supplies.

The Saudi-backed dissident Asaad Mustafa was named defence minister, while the economist Ibrahim Mero was chosen as finance minister. No-one was given the interior, education and health portfolios.

The government is expected to operate from the Turkish border city of Gaziantep.

France and the UK welcomed its creation, but one coalition official told the Reuters news agency that the move had been opposed by the US, which feared it would undermine its planned meeting in Geneva to find a political solution to the Syria conflict.

"The feeling in the coalition is that even if Geneva convenes, it will be a long process and we cannot continue to leave the liberated areas prey to chaos in the meantime," the official said.

On Tuesday, Kurdish groups in north-eastern Syria separately announced the formation of a "transitional civil administration" in areas under their control.

They said the interim government would operate until the Syrian crisis had been resolved.

The declaration follows a meeting two days ago between Kurdish parties and other regional representatives in the predominantly Kurdish town of Qamishli.

They are planning to draft a constitution in the coming months and to elect local assemblies in the de facto autonomous zone created when government forces withdrew in the summer of 2012.

A spokesman for the Democratic Union Party (PYD) party told the BBC that the Kurdish areas would become part of a future democratic Syria and not form a separate state.