Belfast Telegraph

Friday 28 November 2014

Mortars strike near Assad palace

A woman walks through the mud in a refugee camp in Syria (AP)
A woman walks through the mud in a refugee camp in Syria (AP)

Two mortars have exploded near one of Syrian President Bashar Assad's palaces in Damascus but caused only material damage, Syria's state news service said.

The attack was the first confirmed strike close to a presidential palace and another sign that the civil war is seeping into areas once considered safe and reaching closer to the heart of Mr Assad's seat of power in the capital.

The news service, SANA, said "terrorists" fired the rounds that struck near the southern wall of the Tishreen palace in the capital's north-western Muhajireen district. The government describes anti-government fighters as "terrorists."

No casualties were reported and it was unclear whether Mr Assad was in the palace. He has two others in the city.

He often uses the Tishrin palace to receive dignitaries and as a guest house for foreign officials during their visits to Syria.

His two other palaces are the People's Palace on Qasioun mountain overlooking the capital and Rawda palace in the central neighbourhood of Abu Rummaneh.

For security reasons, his movements are shrouded in secrecy and it is unclear how much time he spends in any of the palaces. His public appearances have grown increasingly infrequent as the civil war has spread.

The Syrian capital has largely been spared the violence that has left other Syrian cities in ruins. For weeks, however, rebels who have established footholds in the suburbs have been pushing closer to the heart of the city from the eastern and southern outskirts, clashing with government forces.

Rebels have claimed to fire rockets at the presidential palaces before, but this strike was the first confirmed by the government.

In the northern city of Aleppo, a Syrian missile strike levelled a stretch of buildings and killed at least 19 people, leaving residents combing through the rubble to find those trapped beneath it, anti-regime activists said. The strike was the latest salvo in a fierce and bloody seventh-month battle for Syria's largest city and economic centre, a key prize in the civil war.

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