Last Updated: Tue Sep 06, 2011 00:49 am (KSA) 21:49 pm (GMT)

Gunfire, explosions at Syrian military airport as Red Cross head meets Assad

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (L) meets Jakob Kellenberger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross. (Photo by Reuters)
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (L) meets Jakob Kellenberger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross. (Photo by Reuters)

Heavy gunfire and loud explosions were heard early on Monday in al-Maza military airport on the outskirts of the Syrian capital amid reports of defections among army forces in the area, an activist told Al Arabiya.

Bashir al-Dimashqi, a pro-democracy activist from Damascus, said told Al Arabiya that army helicopters were seen flying near the airport and firing on defected army units.

Dimashqi said defections among army forces were not uncommon in the area and that soldiers who refuse orders to fire on protesters are often killed.

This past Friday, several army units defected in the Damascus suburbs of Douma, Harasta and Kfar Batna.

Meanwhile, Syrian troops and security forces on Monday launched an assault on the central cities of Hama and Homs and shot dead at least two people, activists said.

“More than 30 military vehicles and security forces raided Hama this morning and heavy gunfire was heard in the city,” Omar Idlibi, spokesman of the Local Coordination Committees, told AFP in Nicosia.

Troops backed by tanks had stormed Hama on July 31, on the eve of the start of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, to fight “armed groups. ” At least 100 people were killed, and the troops withdrew 10 days later.

The protest hub of Homs also witnessed violence Sunday as 15 people were wounded when troops and security forces raked gunfire in the city as part of an operation launched on Saturday night, activists said.

Elsewhere, at least 24 people were killed in violence across the country on Sunday as the visiting head of the Red Cross, Jakob Kellenberger, sought access to those detained in more than five months of anti-regime protests.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said Kellenberger met President Bashar al-Assad before winding up his visit and announced that Red Cross delegates visited Damascus central prison in Adra suburb on Sunday, AFP reported.

“Initially, we will have access to persons detained by the ministry of the interior, and we are hopeful that we will soon be able to visit all detainees,” Kellenberger said in a statement.

“This is an important step forward for our humanitarian activities in Syria,” he said.

The ICRC said Kellenberger “welcomed the progress made in terms of access to areas affected by the ongoing violence. He emphasized one of his main concerns now is to ensure that the wounded and sick are able to obtain medical care.”

His meeting with Assad also covered “the rules governing the use of force by security forces in the current situation and the obligation to respect the physical and psychological well-being and human dignity of detainees,” it said.

Meanwhile, the Arab League secretary general Nabil al-Arabi said Syrian authorities have agreed to his visiting, plans for which he had announced a week ago after the 22-member bloc had met to discuss the Syrian crisis.

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