First word from Syria’s Assad emerges after attack

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The latest fighting in Damascus, government forces fired heavy machine guns and mortars in battles with rebels in a number of neighborhoods in the capital, the Britain-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Adding to the confusion, Syria‘s state-run TV warned citizens that gunmen were disguising themselves in military uniforms to carry out attacks.

“Gunmen are wearing Republican Guard uniforms in the neighborhoods of Tadamon, Midan, Qaa and Nahr Aisha, proving that they are planning attacks and crimes,” the state news agency SANA said.

Many residents were fleeing Damascus’ Mezzeh neighborhood after troops surrounded it and posted snipers on rooftops while exchanging gunfire with opposition forces.

The Observatory, which relies on a network of activists inside Syria, said rebels damaged one helicopter and disabled three military vehicles.

Rebels fired rocket-propelled grenades at a police station in the Jdeidet Artouz area, killing at least five officers, the group said.

Activist claims could not be independently verified. The Syrian government bars most media from working independently in the country.

The unarmed observers were authorized for 90 days to monitor a cease-fire and implementation of the six-point peace plan of former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the U.N.-Arab League special envoy to Syria, but the truce never took hold and the monitors have found themselves largely locked down because of the persistent violence.

Gen. Mood said the observers “will become relevant when the political process takes off.”

Syria‘s 16-month crisis began with protests inspired by the Arab Spring wave of revolutions, but it has evolved into a civil war, with rebels fighting to topple Mr. Assad.

Activists say more than 17,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in March 2011, most of them civilians. The Syrian government says more than 4,000 security officers have been killed. It does not give the numbers of civilian dead.

Associated Press writers Edith M. Lederer and John Heilprin contributed reporting from the United Nations.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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