BEIRUT: After a night of bombardment by regime forces in which at least five were killed, the suburbs of Damascus were again targeted Friday, in an attempt by the army to push back rebels from the outskirts of the capital.
In the northern suburb of Barzeh, three children, a woman and an elderly man were killed in overnight shelling, according to the Local Coordination Committees activist network. In videos posted online, bodies of dead and injured can be seen under rubble.
Activists also reported shelling in the neighborhoods of Erbeen and Moudamieh, where four people, including two children, were discovered dead Friday on their farm after overnight shelling, according to the LCC.
In the suburb of Hammeh, the LCC reported that a man had died under torture Friday after being detained by the regime.
This week, the army has stepped up attacks on the rebel-held suburbs of Damascus, hoping to prevent opposition groups reaching further inside the capital, at the center of which lies the presidential palace and Bashar Assad’s most loyal supporters and soldiers.
In the city of Al-Hajar Al-Aswad, in Rif Damascus, mortal shells were dropped as worshippers were leaving mosques after Friday prayers, according to Shaam news. No casualties were reported.
Elsewhere in the country, Raqqa – the first provincial capital to fall to the rebels – was again under regime bombardment, as was the rebel-held Aleppo neighborhood of Sheikh Maqsood, according to the activist group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is based in Britain but which relies on a large network of activists and professionals on the ground.
Overnight, two Kurdish Syrians were shot dead by regime snipers in the same area, the Observatory reported Friday. Clashes also took place near the Aleppo international airport base, it added, with rebels firing on both the civilian airport and the Neyrab military airport.
Earlier in the week hundreds of families fled the area, due to intense regime bombing, the Observatory said.
After Friday prayers, demonstrators in some areas of Aleppo and Raqqa held protests, calling for the downfall of the regime.
In Homs and Idlib also, activists reported shelling by the regime.
A rare public interview with Assad is expected to be released later Friday, at 7.30 p.m. Beirut time.
It was conducted earlier this week with a Turkish newspaper, Aydinlik, and the Ulusal television station, both of which are supportive of the Turkish opposition, and in excerps released Wednesday, Assad said that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has not uttered “a single word of truth" about Syria's conflict thus far.
Ankara is a key backer of the Syrian opposition.
Further excerpts were released Thursday, in which the Syrian president criticized the Arab League for last month handing a seat to the Syrian opposition National Coalition.
The Syrian government lost its seat in the League last November, over its failure to end the civil war, which has so far claimed at least 70,000 lives, according to the U.N.
"The Arab League lacks legitimacy. It's a League that represents the Arab states, not the Arab people, so it can't grant or retract legitimacy," Assad said.
In the full interview he is also expected to discuss the resolution of the now 2-year-old crisis; the importance of secularism for Syria; the Kurdish question in the north; the attitude of BRICS countries – several of which represent Assad’s main support – and the recent Israeli apology to Turkey over the Gaza flotilla deaths in 2010, in which Israeli forces killed nine activists.
He is also expected to slam Jordan. Syrian state media on Thursday criticized the country’s southern neighbor over hosting U.S.-provided training to Syrian rebels, a charge Amman denies, but which Western and Arab officials have confirmed is taking place.
Also Friday, a Jordanian government spokesperson said almost 35,000 refugees have returned home, but a larger number joined the exodus last month alone, AFP reported.
"34,824 syrian refugees have gone back to their country since the start of the crisis," Anmar al-Hammud, spokesman for the refugee file, told AFP.
He said around 2,500 of them had returned at their own request from the Zaatari refugee camp in northern Jordan on Thursday with the assistance of Jordanian security services.
Around 1.2 million Syrians have fled to neighboring countries over the past two years, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and around 4 million are internally displaced.