- Associated Press - Thursday, January 26, 2012

BEIRUT Syrian troops stormed a flash point suburb of Damascus on Thursday, rounding up people in house-to-house raids and clashing with army defectors, activists said, as the 10-month-old uprising inches ever closer to the capital.

Even as the fighting raged in Douma, tens of thousands of backers of President Bashar Assad poured into the streets just 10 miles away in downtown Damascus in a show of support for his embattled regime.

Similar pro-regime rallies were held in other cities Thursday, even as the bloodshed continued elsewhere, offering a sign of the deep divisions over the country’s deadly revolt.

The offensive against Douma came two days after Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said his government will continue with the “security solution” to end the crisis. It was the latest evidence that the Assad regime was rejecting pressure to stop the bloody crackdown, and that the Arab League was powerless to curb it.

Just days after pulling out of Douma following intense clashes with anti-regime fighters, government troops pushed back in early Thursday from all directions.

“A fierce battle is taking place, and troops are shelling areas with heavy machine gunfire,” activist Mohammed al-Saeed, a Douma resident, said. “People are hiding in their homes as special prayers are blaring from mosques loudspeakers.”

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 200 people were detained Thursday in Douma.

“They are entering homes, searching cars and stopping people in the streets to check identity cards,” Mr. al-Saeed said. “There is very little movement in the streets, and nobody is allowed to leave or enter Douma.”

The Syrian uprising began last March with largely peaceful anti-government protests, but it has grown increasingly militarized in recent months as frustrated regime opponents and army defectors arm themselves and fight back against government forces.

The government crackdown has killed more than 5,400 people since March, according to estimates from the United Nations.

Mr. Assad’s regime blames the uprising on terrorists supporting a foreign conspiracy, not protesters seeking change. The government also claims that thousands of security forces have been killed.

The Arab League sent observers to the country as part of a plan to the end the crisis, but the mission has been widely criticized for failing to stop the violence. Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia pulled out of the mission Tuesday, asking the U.N. Security Council to intervene because the Syrian government has not halted its crackdown.

In Cairo, Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby told reporters that he and the prime minister of Qatar would leave for New York on Saturday to brief the U.N. Security Council on the latest Arab plan to end the crisis in Syria.



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