The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

December 4, 2012

Clashes hit Damascus amid chemical weapons fears

(Continued)

NATO foreign ministers are expected Tuesday to approve member Turkey's request for Patriot anti-missile systems to bolster its defense against strikes from neighboring Syria.

Ankara, which has firmly backed the Syrian opposition, wants the Patriots to defend against possible retaliatory attacks by Syrian missiles carrying chemical warheads.

Syria is reported to have an array of artillery rockets, as well as short- and medium-range missiles in its arsenal — some capable of carrying chemical warheads.

In the Damascus area, the Britain-based opposition activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Tuesday's clashes between rebels and troops loyal to Assad were taking place in Beit Saham, Akraba and Yalda suburbs as well as near the international airport.

The Observatory relies on reports from activists on the ground.

The state-run news agency SANA reported that eight students were killed when mortar round hit their school in the near the Damascus suburb of Douma. It said the mortar was fired by terrorists, the same term the regime uses to describe rebels.

The Damascus suburbs, which have been opposition strongholds since the uprising against Assad began in March 2011, have been the scene of heavy fighting since last week following the start of an army offensive to regain lost territory around the capital. Assad's forces have so far repelled major rebel advances on the capital, though their hold may be slipping.

Syria's official SANA news agency said a journalist for the state-run Tishrin newspaper was killed near his home in al-Tadhamon suburb of Damascus. Naji Assaad was "assassinated by an armed terrorist group" Tuesday morning on his way to work, SANA said. The regime refers to rebels fighting to topple Assad as terrorists.

The Syrian uprising began with peaceful protests in March 2011, but has since morphed into a civil war that activists say has killed more than 40,000 people.

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