BEIRUT, Jan 21 (Reuters) - Syrian rebels seized parts
of the town of Douma near the capital Damascus on Saturday and
then withdrew to their hideouts, activists said.
Night-time gunbattles and explosions rocked Douma, 14
kilometres (9 miles) northwest of the capital, activists said.
Douma has been a centre of protests in the 10-month revolt
against President Bashar al-Assad.
The head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the
fighters retreated to their hideouts once they had pushed state
forces outside of Douma.
"It seems they chose not to hold on to the territory, most
likely because it could offer the regime an excuse to storm the
area," Rami Abdelrahman told Reuters.
The fighting posed no direct threat to Damascus itself but
may be seen as too close for comfort to the government, which
has launched a heavy crackdown since unrest began in March.
One resident told Reuters the move marked the first time
rebels, who call themselves the Free Syrian Army, held territory
in Douma for an extended period of time.
"No one can get in or out of Douma right now. This is the
first time the rebels do anything more than hit-and-run attacks.
Tonight they started making barriers in the streets," an
activist living in Douma told Reuters by Skype.
The fighting began on Saturday afternoon, after security
forces killed four people when they fired on a funeral march for
a slain protester. Ensuing clashes left dozens wounded,
Activists on Skype from Douma and the neighbouring town of
Harasta said troops were gathered outside the rebellious suburb.
Another resident in Douma told Reuters she had not heard of
the temporary takeover of the suburb but had heard a large
"One of the explosions was so loud it felt like the whole
city shook," another activist told Reuters on Skype.
(Reporting by Erika Solomon; Editing by Myra MacDonald)
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