Sunday 20 May 2012

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights: Dozens of martyrs in Souran – Hama province: The number of those killed in the city of Souran, Reef Hama, by regime bombardment and later siege has risen to 34. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights was able to identify 33 bodies, one body remains unknown.

Martyrs in Homs and Idlib

Homs province: The body of a young man from al-Qusoor was found, he was shot by a sniper yesterday. A man died in the Shammas neighbourhood of Homs from wounds inflicted earlier in the week.

Idlib province: A defected first sergeant was killed during clashes in the city of Idlib. Several protests came out today from the various towns and villages in Idlib demanding the fall of the regime. In the Ihsim area heavy machine-gun fire was heard.

Explosions and shelling in Dera’a

Dera’a province: Explosions were heard in the town on al-Na’ima, Reef Dera’a. Mortars are falling on the edges of the town. There have been initial reports of casualties.

Martyr, protests and explosions in Dera’a

Dera’a province: Protests came out from several towns and villages in the province demanding the release of the arrested activist Mohammed Al-Hariri, the day of protest is called ‘solidarity with the detainee Mohammed Al-Hariri’.
In the city of Busra al-Sham, a defected soldier was killed in an ambush set up to for him late at night.
Heavy explosions have been heard in the city of Jasim followed by the sound of heavy gunfire, no information yet on casualties.


Syrian Uprising 2011 Information Centre: Suran (20/05/2012): The martyrs of today’s massacre in Suran, a town of 35,000 north of Hama. They include men, women and children. 1 – Mustafa Karrush, 2 – Abdullah Mustafa Karrush, 3 – Abdulrahman Mustafa Karrush, 4 – Abdulrahman Ahmad Karrush, 5 – Muhammad Ahmad Karrush, 6 – Khaled Mahmud al Hasan, 7 – Hasan Khaled Bluz, 8 – Ahmad al Mahmoud, 9 – Osama Ahmad al Mahmoud, 10 – Faisal Mustafa al Nasr, 11 – Dyaa Mustafa al Nasr, 12 – Khaled Mustafa al Nasr, 13 – Ashraf Khaled al Nasr, 14 – Abdullah Hassani, 15 – Taher Abdulrahman Jarban, 16 – Abdulrahman Awad Jarban, 17 – Abdulrahman Abdulqader Jarban, 18 – Hekmat Muhammad Issa, 19 – Bilal Issa, 20 – Abdulqader Jarban, 21 – Yussef Abdulqader Jarban, 22 – Hussien Mustafa al Naser, 23 – Mustafa Nasr al Shaykh, 24 – Muhammad Mustafa Nasr al Shaykh, 25 – Faisal Nasr al Shaykh, 26-27 Khaled Mustafa al Shaykh and his wife (her name is unknown yet), 28 – Dyaa Mustafa al Shaykh, 29 – Nidal Issa, 30 – Muhammad Suliman Fahidi, 31 – Khaled Muhammad Suliman Fahidi, 32 – Mustafa Suliman Fahidi, 33-34 – Two unidentified martyrs their bodies were mutilated.

We are all Hamza Alkhateeb: Another Syrian story from behind the prison bars:
This man holding his child here is one of the prominent activists in Qamishlo, Shibal Ibrahim, who has been detained for eight months. He suffers from Hepatitis, he is married and a father of 3 children, the eldest is 7 years old. Shibal is now imprisoned in the Air-Force branch in Damascus. Leaked information states that Shibal’s health situation is deteriorating that it reached memory loss and paralysis. We urge every Human Rights group out there who still fight for the basic rights for every HUMAN on the face of the earth,,, please shed more light on the detainees,,, they are in the worst and darkest situations ever and are in desperate need for help. SHIBAL’S CHILDREN MISS HIM, HIS WIFE MISS HIM, HIS FAMILY,,,
please help,,,

NOW! Lebanon
[local time] 
 17:53 A powerful blast went off within a few meters of a team of UN truce monitors visiting the Damascus suburb of Douma on Sunday, an AFP correspondent reported.
 17:49 Activists said that Syrian security forces killed 28 people on Sunday, Al-Arabiya television reported.
 17:37 At least 21 people were killed in violence across Syria on Sunday, including three children in a village in central Hama province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
 16:50 Syrian army shelling of Hama killed more than 15 people on Sunday, Al-Jazeera television reported.
 15:20 The explosions in Duma near Damascus injured 30 people on Sunday, Al-Arabiya television reported, adding that none of the UN observers were injured.
 15:01 The United Nations said on Sunday that 480 Palestinian refugees have fled Syria to Jordan since the start of a revolt against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime last year.
 14:05 Syrian regime forces killed a civilian and an army defector, a watchdog said, adding that armed men assassinated a Baath party official in Edleb.
 11:15 The Syrian National Council (SNC) called on Lebanese authorities “to abide by the Arab and international sanctions imposed on the Syrian regime.”
 8:46 Fierce fighting between regime troops and armed rebels rocked parts of the Syrian capital Damascus overnight, a monitoring group said on Sunday.
 8:25 G8 leaders urged a “political transition” for Syria Saturday, and also called on the Syrian government and all parties to “immediately and fully adhere” to an internationally-backed plan to end violence.
 8:10 A Syrian was shot dead and two others wounded as they tried to cross the border from Lebanon back into their country Saturday, security and medical sources said.

Telegraph: Syria: RPG explodes yards away from UN monitoring chief

A rocket-propelled grenade exploded yards away from a team of UN observers in a Damascus suburb on Sunday as clashes between Syrian troops and armed rebels raged in and around the Syrian capital.

The convoy was carrying Maj Gen Robert Mood, the head of the UN mission, and Herve Ladsous, its peacekeeping chief, but no one was hurt in the explosion.
Maj Gen Mood’s vehicle was at an army checkpoint in the Douma district of Damascus when the explosion, described by a Syrian army officer as a rocket propelled-grenade, hit yards away.
The attack follows several other close calls for the UN monitors, who have been deployed to observe a fragile truce, brokered by Kofi Annan, the UN-Arab League envoy, that came into effect on April 12.
On May 16, a convoy of UN observers was struck by a homemade bomb in the central city of Homs, damaging three vehicles but causing no casualties.
A similar convoy was hit by a roadside bomb on May 9 in the southern province of Daraa, wounding six Syrian soldiers escorting them.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said regime forces shelled the outskirts of Douma overnight with rockets crashing into the suburb during the day. A civilian was also shot dead in Douma by a sniper.At least 21 people were killed across the country on Sunday, including 16 civilians who died when the army sent shells crashing into a village in central Hama province.The latest violence came after the G8 nations said a “political transition” was needed to end the crisis in Syria, where monitors say more than 12,000 people have died in a government crackdown since March 2011….

BBC: Syria town shelling ‘kills 16’

Shelling by Syrian forces kills at least 16 people, according to the British-based group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The organisation says three children are among the dead in the town of Souran in the central province of Hama.

It cited residents saying: “The army shelled the town and then stormed it,” according to Reuters.

In a separate incident there was an explosion near a convoy carrying the head of the UN mission in Syria.

There are no reports of casualties in that case and it is not clear if it was a bomb or a rocket-propelled grenade.

Maj Gen Robert Mood’s vehicle was at an army checkpoint in the Douma district of Damascus when the blast happened.

Journalists who were in Gen Mood’s convoy say the front of a nearby Toyota pick-up vehicle was blown off in Sunday’s incident.

There is so far no comment from the mission itself.

Violence between armed rebels and the Syrian army has been escalating despite a truce negotiated by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.

Clashes had been reported in Douma earlier in the day. Reuters news agency says gunmen wounded 29 members of the security forces.

The BBC is unable to confirm reports due to tight restrictions on the movements of journalists in Syria.

Douma, on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, was one of the first areas to join the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad last year.

Earlier this month Gen Mood, a Norwegian officer, was in another convoy which avoided an explosion near the city of Deraa.

In that case a Syrian military truck which was escorting the vehicles was hit just seconds after UN staff had passed by.

There are 257 unarmed UN observers in Syria and that number is expected to increase to 300 by the end of May.

The vain search for dialogue in a battle-scarred Syria

Lyse DoucetBy Lyse Doucet

Often in politics it comes down to one man. In Syria, it is Bashar al-Assad.

Everywhere we travelled in Syria last week the president’s name was invoked.

“Bashar must go!” was the constant refrain in impromptu protests we saw in neighbourhoods in Damascus and Homs.

At other times on some streets, Syrians would whisper tersely: “We can’t talk to you.” Then with a gesture of a knife slitting their throat, they would add: “Bashar would kill me”.

But there was another narrative too.

“You expect Bashar to step down? Why?” was often the response of government officials who, in off-the-record conversations, would call for change but not at the very top.

“If Bashar al-Assad goes, the system would collapse,” one official warned. “That’s in no-one’s interest, and most of all not in Syria’s.”

As violence grows, and takes more deadly forms, inner circles of the regime seem to be closing ranks, although it is hard to say with much certainty what fissures lie beneath the surface.

Some individuals who had access to the president now speak of a leader who “no longer listens” to advice.

Fear of retaliation, including against family members, may help keep the regime tight, but so does anxiety over what happens should it crack.

The narrative is often framed as a battle for Syria’s survival, including the maintenance of its secular traditions.

‘Windows for dialogue’

More than one regime supporter told me the only way out was an election between Bashar al-Assad and would-be candidates from the opposition.

Maj Gen Mood We are searching at local and national levels, and for engagement from outside. Openings are there.” Maj Gen Robert MoodUN observer mission head

That is a preposterous idea for his opponents in a conflict that has already claimed an estimated 10,000 lives, most of them civilians killed in crushing government assaults.

Mr Assad’s supporters insist he would still win. After 14 months of horrific violence, it is hard to imagine dialogue in such deepening hostility and hatred.

But Maj Gen Robert Mood, who heads the UN monitoring mission in Syria, says he is “absolutely convinced windows can be found”.

“Everyone is searching,” the Norwegian officer, with years of experience in the region, explained in an interview at his Damascus headquarters.

“We are searching at local and national levels, and for engagement from outside. Openings are there.”

Gen Mood described the situation as “very fragmented”.

“It’s a different situation in Deraa than in Homs, different in Idlib and Hama. It differs from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. We are not seeing one chain of command which goes from top to bottom,” he elaborated.

The UN team, among others, is starting to reach out to people, on both sides, who indicate they may want to talk.

In Homs, a senior Syrian official told me: “We want to talk to the militants, but they have no leaders, no programme.”

“They should just pick a person and just start talking, just start a process,” said one Western observer in Syria.

But if there are acceptable official figures outside Damascus who might negotiate with the opposition, no-one can tell how much leeway they have in pursuing local solutions to stop the violence.

“Will Damascus stop anyone? It’s not clear how far it will let them go,” remarked one Western official.

In recent weeks, the government has unleashed a sweeping campaign of arrests of intellectuals and activists, the very voices who may want to play a role in moving this situation forward.

It is equally difficult to find negotiating partners across a range of armed opposition groups which one source described as a “fragmented flat structure”.

Spiralling violence

But far clearer than any political opening is the widening spiral of violence. During our two days in Homs with UN monitors, shelling continued virtually around the clock.

Large swathes of the city lie in ruin, a chilling testament to the indiscriminate violence unleashed by the government against opposition strongholds.

Both sides are now violating a month-old UN ceasefire, a key part of envoy Kofi Annan’s six-point peace plan.

“In many areas, the government is not moving its tanks and heavy weapons forward but it is defending its positions,” said one informed observer. He also described how the opposition “is now mounting more attacks, trying to gain more territory”.

There have been a number of significant operations by anti-government forces in recent weeks, including one north of Homs which UN sources described as an “well co-ordinated attack” that led to battles lasting a few hours.

There are more reports of arms reaching the opposition, but one source said some of the traffic was coming via middlemen and their provenance was not always clear to the groups who received them.

Twin bombings that killed 55 people in Damascus on 10 May have also concentrated minds on the emergence of what is being called “a third force”, involving elements of more militant groups including al-Qaeda.

This development plays into the narrative of the government, which is accused by the opposition of manipulating Jihadi groups to play on fears at home and abroad of a slide into greater chaos.

But Western intelligence sources say there is evidence of more sophisticated expertise entering the country, although the presence of foreign militants is still unclear.

One source following the situation closely said this “was just a matter of time”.

When I asked Gen Mood about the increased use of bombs, he called it “a worrying trend”.

If the cycle of violence did not stop, he warned, “it would challenge the future of this country in a way I really don’t want to think about”.

Yet Syrians on both sides are focusing on exactly that, causing some to plead for a peaceful resolution, others to harden their stance, and prompting many to ask whether the men and women leading the conflict are really listening.

REUTERS: Lebanese soldiers kill two anti-Assad activists

BEIRUT – Lebanese soldiers shot dead two members of an alliance against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in northern Lebanon on Sunday, security sources said, in the latest incident to raise fears Syria’s turmoil was spilling over the border into its neighbor….

Guardian: Syria: Damascus clashes prompt claims of high-level assassinations – Sunday 20 May

Follow the day’s events as they unfolded as state media in Syria denied claims by the Free Syrian Army that it had assassinated six of Bashar al-Assad’s highest ranking officials [this account below shows how confusing the whole situation is]

Syrian capital district rocked by fighting20 May 2012: Activists say Assad forces have clashed with army defectors in Kfar Souseh, where foreign ministry is located

The Free Syrian Army claims to have killed six high-ranking officials in the Assad regime but state media described the reports as ‘baseless’

5.01pm: Here’s a summary of the main developments today:

• The Free Syrian Army has claimed that it killed six high-ranking officials within the Assad regime, including the president’s brother-in-law and intelligence chief, Asif Shawkat, in Damascus last night. The other alleged victims included the interior minister, Mohammad Shaar, the defence minister, Dawood Rajha and Hassan Turkmani, the vice president’s deputy.

• State media described the allegations as “categorically baseless” and three of those reportedly killed were quoted in a Sana article attempting to refute the claims. Shaar denied the rebel claims at a press conference, while Turkmani was interviewed by state-run Syrian TV in his office, saying the claims were “blatant lies.” But nothing was heard from Shawkat.

• A spokeswoman for the Revolutionary Council for Damascus said that the method of attack was poisoning and that it was unclear how many were injured or dead but at least one or two figures on the list were believed to have been killed. She suggested it could be significant that others on the list reportedly killed had not appeared on TV/in public as the government might be trying to manage the news of their deaths or wait for them to recover from injuries inflicted.

• A bomb exploded 150 metres from a convoy carrying the UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous and Major General Robert Mood, the head of the observers’ mission. The blast in Douma, in Damascus suburbs, blew off the front of a parked vehicle but causing no casualties. There were also reports that people came under fire while UN observers were visiting al-Rastan, 180km north of Homs.

• At least 15 people were killed by security forces shelling Souran, in Hama, according to opposition activists. One group, the Syrian Revolution General Commission said more than 21 were injured and over 50 wounded. It said 31 people have been killed by security forces across the country today. The Local Coordination Committees put the total killed at 28.

• Four explosive devices planted by “armed terrorist groups” were discovered in Idlib, in north-west Syria, according to state media.

• Lebanese soldiers shot dead two members of an alliance against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in northern Lebanon on Sunday, security sources said, in the latest incident to raise fears Syria’s turmoil was spilling over the border into its neighbour. Sheikh Ahmed Abdul Wahid, a Sunni Muslim cleric, and Khaled Miraib, both members of the Lebanon-based 14 March political alliance, were shot in their car as they sped through a Lebanese army checkpoint without stopping, the sources said. Residents of the northern region of Akkar blocked off roads to protest against the deaths. The main coastal highway north of Tripoli had also been blocked by enraged residents.

4.34pm: Here’s a version with English subtitles of the Free Syrian Army video in which it claims to have killed six high-ranking officials of the Assad regime (thanks to benad361 below the line for the link).

The man in the video says:

I announce the following operation has been executed by the special operations company of the al-Sahabah battalions. This company carried out a covert miltiary operation. They spent two months keeping the memberrs of Syria’s so-called “crisis cell” under surveillance.

One of the company’s heroes then carried out a covert military operation within the area. He then killed them in a certain manner – for now we will refrain from disclosing the details.

A spokeswoman for the Revolutionary Leadership Council for Damascus told the Guardian the method of killing was poisoning (see 1.15pm update).

4.18pm: An opposition supporter claims UN observers have fled Rastan, 180km north of Homs, after the security forces opened fire.

UN observers flee destroyed Rastan… due to gunfire from Assad forces… 

3.55pm: Four explosive devices planted by “armed terrorist groups” have been discovered in Idlib, in north-west Syria, state media reports. From Sana:

Military engineering units on Sunday dismantled four explosive devices planted by armed terrorist groups on Ariha-Idleb road at Nahlia crossroad in Jabal al-Zawiya area.

[A] Sana reporter quoted an official source in the province as saying that the explosive devices weigh 30 and 60 kilos and they were prepared to target civilians and law enforcement members.

The source added that two of the explosive devices blew up near the aforementioned place when a microbus passed, but no one was hurt …

In Deir-Ezzor city, the competent authorities stormed into a terrorists’ den in al-Ardha neighborhood where they found different sorts of weapons.

Meanwhile, the Local Coordination Committees activist group claims 28 people have been killed by the security forces so far today, including 19 in Hama, where heavy shelling has been reported in Souran.

3.24pm: Elsewhere in Syria today, the Local Coordination Committees reports that 15 people have been killed by the security forces bombing Souran, in Hama (the LCC’s reports cannot be independently verified). It also reports:

Shelling in al-Qusayr, Homs

Aleppo University: Clashes between demonstrators and security forces in the Faculty of Electricity, and a tear gas grenade was thrown at demonstrators

Damascus Suburbs: Hamoria: Two explosions were heard with heavy gunfire in conjunction with military reinforcements entering the city.

Idlib: Jisr al-Shoghour: Intermittent bombing from army’s checkpoints in Badama village near al-Najia, and on the surrounding agricultural lands.

Spoof martyr's Facebook page for Asif Shawkat

2.41pm: Opposition activists have set up a spoof “martyr’s” Facebook page (see left) for Asif Shawkat, the head of intellgence and brother-in-law of Bashar al-Asssad. It is called “We are all Asif Shawkat”. Probably the best known example of such a page was the “We are all Khaled Said” page in Egypt, dedicated to the man whose death at the hands of police helped inspire the demonstrations that brought down Hosni Mubarak. Shawkat is one of six senior officials the Free Syrian Army claims to have killed in an operation last night, although state media has described the reports as “categorically baseless”.

1.35pm: More from Reuters on the explosion in Douma, in Damascus suburbs, today near a convoy carrying the head of the UN observers:

Major General Robert Mood’s car was stopped at an army checkpoint when the bomb detonated in an nearby alleyway and the convoy left, the Reuters journalist said, adding that there were no reports of casualties.

1.33pm: A newsflash from Reuters: Roadside bomb explodes in Syria 150 metres from UN convoy carrying chief major general Robert Mood – Reuters witness.

A convoy of UN truce observers came under bomb attack in Khan Sheikhun, a town in Idlib province, on Tuesday.

There was also a bomb explosion in the vicinity of a convoy of UN observers travelling from Damascus to Deraa, under Syrian army escort, earlier this month.

1.15pm: Lena, from the Revolutionary Council for Damascus told that they are still trying to establish the facts of who was killed/injured as a result of a Free Syrian Army operation in the capital last night but she said she suspects at least one or two on the list were killed and the state’s claims that they are all alive should be treated with caution. She said the figures in question were poisoned but that she could not give more information.

We have confirmation from the Free Syrian Army, from the battalion itself that an operation took place yesterday. It was carried out and it just went well but we still have no confirmation of those who were hurt or those who died because of it. So now we are still waiting for the news to see who really died and who really didn’t but we have confirmation that something happened ….

Asked about the denials by state media of the deaths and reports that two of those on the list of those purportedly killed had given interview to Syria TV, Lena said:

We still have other four figures who did not appear so far and perhaps they may not appear. Some of them might be recovering from what happened last night. We were told that they were poisoned but we do not know who died last night, as I told you, so maybe the regime is taking some time now to try to solve what is happening, trying to cover up for what happened. Maybe they’re waiting for those who are still recovering and they will appear on TV after they are well. But we think that at least one or two figures died yesterday.

The following quotes do not appear on the audio recording as there was a problem. Asked the significance of some or all of these people being killed, Lena said:

This would mean that the situation would be very different because these people stand behind Assad and support him. If one of them or two or three of them die it would make a huge difference but we believe security forces would carry out more brutal violence against the people …We are a bit afraid …We are waiting for more violence to happen here …But the more violence there is we know that the end is growing nearer for us.

We know that when Hafez al-Assad died the regime waited fro a few days to confirm the news of the death. We know that maybe they are holding the information of these deaths so they can organise the news …In the next few days we will know for sure.

12.45pm: One of those the Free Syrian Army claims to have killed, Asif Shawkat, head of Syrian intelligence, is also Bashar al-Assad’s brother-in-law.

Writing about Shawkat in 2010, after Assad made changes within the security and intelligence agencies, Rick Francona, wrote on Middle East Perspectives:

The most interesting move here is the promotion of Asif Shawkat to lieutenant general and the news that he may be the next minister of defence. Shawkat owes virtually all of his good fortune to the fact that he is married to Bushra Hafiz al-Asad. If he becomes the minister of defense, al-Asad will have an absolutely loyal and trustworthy ally in that key position. While almost all of the senior officers in key positions are from the ‘Alawite minority of the Latakia region, Shawkat is one better, he’s family.

Shawkat, now 60-years-old, has been the chief of Syrian Military Intelligence since early 2005, shortly after the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri in Beirut. Most Middle East observers (including me) believe there was a Syrian hand in the murder. We also believe Shawkat was involved in the planning, if not the execution.

Another of those reportedly killed, defence minister, Dawood Rajha, was cited in an opposition proposal last year as a credible regime figure to lead a transition process, the Wall Street Journal reported.

12.20pm: This video is said to show gunfire in Kfar Souseh, in the Syrian capital last night

Videos have also been posted purporting to illustrate the sound of gunfire in Mezze, in Damascus, and Tadamon, also in the capital.

12.01pm: This is what the Local Coordination Committees activist group says about the reports that six high-ranking officials in the Assad regime were killed by rebel fighters:

A number of leaders from the al-Sahabeh battalion confirmed, in a telephone interview with the Local Coordination Committees in Syria, the validity of the news about an operation that targeted the regime’s crisis management cell during its meeting at the conference palace. The battalion indicated that additional details would be forthcoming, and could be broadcast live by Commander Khaled Al-Habous. The LCC has not confirmed this news with any other source.

It reported intense gunfire in the capital overnight.

Here are some of its updates from last night (they cannot be independently verified by the Guardian):

Intense gunfire is heard in Baghdad and Abaseen streets.

Kfar Souseh: Violent clashes between the Free Syrian Army and the regime’s army at Al-Luwan Bridge in the southern highway and arrival of huge reinforcements to the region.

Kfar Souseh: Clashes are growing more fierce, as are the sounds of gunfire. There are reports of wounded among the Free Syrian Army and dead among the regime’s army.

Wadi Al-Mashar’ee: Powerful explosions were reported in the sky in the area.

Powerful explosions shake the region of Shaalan and reports of intense gunfire from Abu Rumaneh and Malki regions.

11.43am: Welcome to Middle East Live. Heavy clashes were reported in Damascus overnight and in a video message (Arabic), the Free Syrian Army claimed to have killed six key figures in the Assad regime.

The six men killed are reportedly:

1) Asif Shawkat (Head of Syrian intelligence)
2) Mohammad Shaar (interior minister)
3) Dawood Rajha (defence minister)
4) Hassan Turkmani (vice president’s deputy)
5) Hisham Bikhtyar
6) Mohammad Saeed Bkheytan

This picture of the six men has been posted online..

Six members of Syria regime the FSA claims to have killedHowever, the claims have been denied by state media and activist Rami Jarrah, who blogs/tweets under the 

Hassan Turkmani and Mohammad Shaar were just on phone call with  statetv asking for apology from any channels claiming they were dead

Assistant Vice-President General Hasan Turkmani said in a statement “The news reported by al-Jazeera is completely baseless and reflects full media bankruptcy”.

Gen Turkmani added ”My colleagues and I are safe and sound and serving our duties assuredly. These false news go unheeded by the Syrian people because they already know that they are blatant lies.”

For his part, Minister of Interior Lieutenant General Mohammad al-Shaar said “the news reported by al-Jazeera is groundless”, asserting “We are used to hearing such news led by the lies and allegation campaign.”

”I am speaking from my office at the Interior Ministry…All my colleagues are performing their duties. It is regrettable that we became accustomed to such laughable news by bankrupt channels since the onset of the crisis in Syria that encourage shedding more Syrian blood,” Minister al-Shaar added …

Minister of Defense General Dawood Rajha said that the news broadcast by al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya on the assassination of political and security officials are lies and reflect the bankruptcy and failure of the armed groups and those who are supporting them with funds, weapons and media.

There was fighting overnight between Syrian government forces and army defectors in the Kfar Souseh district of the capital, Damascus, opposition groups said. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Kfar Souseh is a high-security area housing the foreign ministry and several security and intelligence agencies. It has been the scene of frequent demonstrations against the president, Bashar al-Assad, since the uprising began.

“Violent clashes broke out between rebel fighters and regime troops at a checkpoint,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The Observatory and the Local Co-ordination Committees said explosions and gunfire were also heard in several other neighbourhoods of Damascus.

Syrian rebels have claimed they carried out a sophisticated attack that killed political and security officials meeting in the capital. A statement posted online claimed that those killed included the deputy chief of staff for security affairs, Major General Assef Shawkat; the defence minister Dawoud Rajha; the interior minister Mohammad al-Shaar and the former defence minister Hassan Turkmani.

Al-Shaar denied the reports in a phone call to state-run Syrian TV, saying they were “laughable”. “I am speaking to you from my office at the interior ministry,” he said.

Turkmani also called the station and said the reports were proof of “media bankruptcy”. “My colleagues and I are well and carrying out our duty to serve the country … these are blatant lies,” he said. The station later interviewed Turkmani in his office.

Syrian officials rarely respond to claims and statements issued by the opposition, and their quick denials on Sunday were unusual.

Clashes in the heart of the Syrian capital have become more common recently but are still rare compared with other opposition strongholds in Syria that witness deadly violence almost daily. The Local Co-ordination Committees said “huge reinforcements” were brought in to Kfar Souseh in the wake of the overnight fighting.

World powers remain divided on how to end Syria’s crisis. The US and other western and Arab nations have called for Assad to leave power, and the US and European Union have placed increasingly stiff sanctions on Damascus. But with Russia and China blocking significant new UN penalties, US officials are trying to get consensus among other allies about ways to promote Assad’s removal.

Barack Obama said on Saturday that the members of the G8 industrial nations supported the UN’s peace plan for Syria, but said it had not taken hold fast enough.