Bombardment rocks Damascus, opposition meets in Qatar
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis
AMMAN (Reuters) - Syrian warplanes and artillery battered rebel strongholds in southern Damascus on Monday in an onslaught that coincided with another attempt by Syria's fragmented opposition to unite.
A Western diplomat said the assault in Damascus marked a major escalation in a campaign by President Bashar al-Assad's forces to quell opposition in the capital's Sunni Muslim areas.
The bombardment, unleashed hours after a rebel attack on a pro-Assad militia, killed at least 10 people, activists said.
In Qatar, divided Syrian opposition groups were meeting to try to forge a cohesive leadership that would then make common cause with rebel factions fighting on the ground, in an effort to gain wider international recognition and arms supplies.
The Syrian National Council (SNC), the largest overseas-based opposition group, was expected to expand its membership to 400 from 300 and to elect a new leader and executive committee before talks with other anti-Assad factions in Doha on Thursday.
Unity on Syria has also eluded major international powers since the revolt against Assad began in March 2011, with Russia and China opposing Western calls for his removal and critical of so far ill-coordinated outside efforts to arm his opponents.
Rebels have few weapons to counter warplanes and artillery, used increasingly to contain anti-Assad forces. Densely populated Damascus suburbs have taken the brunt of bombardments that have killed hundreds of people in the last three weeks.
Witnesses said artillery deployed on Qasioun, a mountain that overlooks Damascus, was pounding southern neighbourhoods and warplanes were firing rockets. Tanks were also in action. Continued...