Syrian rebels and troops clashed on Wednesday in a Damascus suburb near a branch of the feared air force intelligence service, as monitors reported seven people killed nationwide.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the dawn clashes erupted at Jaramana south of the capital near the intelligence service, one of the most feared in the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Seven civilians were killed across the country early on Wednesday, the watchdog said, reporting violent battles and shelling by regime troops in several areas.
Syrian government forces killed more than 70 people on Tuesday across the country, mostly in Deraa, and wounded scores of others in the violent crackdown against dissents, Al Arabiya reported citing Syrian activists.
Intensive clashes were reported between the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. FSA targeted the headquarters of the regime forces and destroyed some of their army vehicles.
Refugee exodus into Jordan
Fighting in southern Syria has triggered a mass refugee exodus into Jordan, relief officials said, prompting authorities to enact an emergency response plan to confront an emerging humanitarian crisis, a Jordanian daily reported on Tuesday.
Violence in southern Syria has led to refugees crossing into Jordan in “record numbers,” including 973 on Monday evening, the largest single number of daily arrivals since the beginning of the 18-month crisis, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
“We have witnessed new arrivals rise from the hundreds into the thousands,” said Andrew Harper, UNHCR representative in Jordan.
“The challenge is now not only how do we meet the needs of these 1,000 people, but what do we do tomorrow when the next 1,000 cross through?” Harper told The Jordan Times on Tuesday.
Syria meetings to be hosted by France
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will lead a U.S. delegation to talks on the conflict in Syria being hosted by France this week, a U.S. official confirmed Tuesday.
The “secretary will lead our delegation to the Friends of Syria meeting in Paris,” the State Department official told AFP, asking to remain anonymous.
The confirmation came just after France, which is hosting the third meeting of the group seeking to co-ordinate Western and Arab efforts to stop the violence in Syria, said Russia had refused to attend.
The United States, France, Britain, Germany, and Arab nations Saudi Arabia and Qatar are leading members of the Friends, whose more than 60 members include most of the EU states and many countries making up the Arab League.
Friday’s Paris talks will come less than a week after a gathering in Geneva endorsed a blueprint for a political transition in Syria, riven by 16 months of fighting against the iron-fisted regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
“Our hope and expectation is that many of the countries who were not able to participate in the Geneva meeting, but will now be at the Friends meeting in Paris, will have had a chance to study the document,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters Monday.
They would be “able to add their voices to those of us who have already endorsed it as a strong way forward.”
U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan drew up the plan which was adopted Saturday in Geneva, but it has been heavily criticized for not including a direct call for Assad to step down.
Syria without “Assad and his cronies”
U.S. officials have insisted that no future transitional government would include what they call “Assad and his cronies.”
Russia has backed the Geneva accord, but on Tuesday accused the West of seeking to “distort” the agreement for the political transition.
Nuland said Monday that it was hoped the countries attending the Paris talks would “give special envoy Kofi Annan their political support going forward.”
Syrian opposition leaders will visit Moscow next week in what could be a litmus test for an agreement struck by the U.S., Russia and other major powers on a plan for political transition in Syria.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said it did not imply at all that he should step down, but Clinton said “Assad will still have to go.” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Assad was “finished,” while China’s Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi urged patience, according to Reuters.
Assad himself said Syria would not accept anything imposed from outside. In an interview with Turkish media, published in full by Syria’s state news agency SANA on Tuesday, he stressed the importance of protecting Syria’s sovereignty and non-interference in its internal affairs.
“For us, what American officials say has no credibility in general,” he said.
“Second, the American position is already hostile to Syria in this crisis. They are part of the problem. They support the terrorists very clearly. That's why we are not very interested in what this or that official says during this crisis.”
He added that if elections showed the Syrian people wanted him to step down, he would do so. Assad faces his next election in 2014 but, in a one-party state where elections are widely considered not to be free and fair, he is unlikely to face much of a challenge.
Asked about the deal at a U.N. briefing on Tuesday, Annan’s spokesman Ahmed Fawzi said there was agreement in principle on a political transition, which should not be underestimated.
Lavrov said different Syrian opposition groups, as well as the participants at the Geneva talks, had been interpreting Russia’s position differently.
“Unfortunately, some representatives of the Syrian opposition started saying the Geneva decision was not acceptable to them, while some of the participants of the Geneva meeting distorted the agreements we had come to,” he said.
He said Russia’s position on the agreement was clear and it did not mean to say more than is written down in the communique.
“Our position is honest, we are not trying to hint at anything more than what is written down in the text,” he added.