Syrian army defectors attack base near Damascus

BEIRUT  — Syrian army defectors said they launched several attacks Wednesday on President Bashar al-Assad's military bases near the capital Damascus, including one on a Syrian intelligence facility — the latest in stepped-up assaults by the renegade troops targeting the regime's forces.

The Free Syrian Army said in a statement that its main attack in the early hours Wednesday targeted a compound run by the Air Force Intelligence in the Damascus suburb of Harasta. The renegade group said the other attacks targeted military checkpoints in the Damascus suburbs of Douma, Qaboun and Arabeen and Saqba.

The claim of the attacks could not be independently confirmed and the Free Syrian Army released no details about the fighting or possible casualties.

The Syrian government has largely sealed off the country, barring most foreign journalists and preventing independent reporting. But details gathered by activist groups and witnesses, along with the amateur videos, have become key channels of information.

The attacks near Damascus are rare, and clashes between defectors and troops have in the past been concentrated in the northwestern province of Idlib and central region of Homs and the southern province of Daraa.

The attacks come two days after defectors killed 34 of Assad's soldiers and members of the security in Daraa, on what was one of the bloodiest days of the 8-month-old uprising.

The UN says that more than 3500 people have been killed since Assad launched a crackdown on the protesters in mid-March.

A Syrian opposition figure said the attack in Harasta was carried out by defectors who broke into three groups and attacked the compound from three sides with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled-grenades. He added that the administrative building was damaged and the attackers made sure not to hit a nearby building where detainees were being held.

The opposition figure, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss military operations, said all the defectors' troops returned safely to their point of origin. He quoted residents in the area as saying that ambulances rushed to the military compound after the attack.

Also Wednesday, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said four people, including three defectors, were killed in the central province of Hama after they were ambushed by troops loyal to Assad.

The Local Coordination Committees, another activist group, said three people have been so far killed on Wednesday, two in Idlib and one in the Damascus suburb of Zabadani.

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