Syrian jets bomb Palestinian camp in Damascus

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian fighter jets bombed a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus Tuesday for the second time this week after rebels made significant advances, seizing large areas within the camp, activists said.

The rebels fighting to topple Assad’s regime have pressed hard against the regime in the past weeks, capturing air bases and military installations in and around Damascus.

Their offensive in the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk in southern Damascus, which began Friday, is aimed at driving out a pro-government Palestinian faction.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and other activists in the camp said fighter jets dropped bombs on the camp Tuesday afternoon, but there was no immediate word of casualties.

Similar airstrikes on Sunday killed at least eight people in Yarmouk.

When the revolt against Assad’s rule began 21 months ago, the half-million-strong Palestinian community in Syria stayed on the sidelines.

But as the civil war deepened, most Palestinians backed the rebels, while some groups — such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command — have been fighting on the government side.

By Tuesday afternoon, the Syrian military deployed several tanks along camp’s main entrance, residents said. There were no Syrian government troops in the camp and most of the fighting was between rebels and PFLP-GC gunmen, they said. The group is led by Ahmed Jibril, Assad’s longtime ally.

Activist videos posted online show armed men moving through the streets of the Damascus camp, as people cheer their presence and chant “God is great.” Gunfire is heard in the background, and the narrator says the rebels are members of the Free Syrian Army.

Rami Abdul-Rahman, chief of the Observatory, said rebels were now in control of most of the camp but intense clashes were continuing in several areas.

The fighting in the camp has forced an exodus of Palestinian refugees and Syrians who came to the camp in past weeks to escape violence elsewhere in the city, according to United Nations officials.

As the violence escalates, the Syrian regime’s few remaining allies appear to be preparing for the possibility of Assad’s fall.

Russia said on Tuesday it was sending warships to the Mediterranean amid official talk about a possible evacuation of its citizens from Syria.

Moscow has been President Bashar Assad’s main ally, shielding him from international sanctions over a brutal crackdown on an uprising that began in March 2011 and turned into civil war.

Last week, however, a senior Russian diplomat said for the first time that Assad is losing control and the rebels might win the civil war, a statement that appeared to signal that Moscow has started positioning itself for an endgame in Syria. But the Foreign Ministry disavowed Mikhail Bogdanov’s statement the next day, saying his words were misinterpreted and that Moscow’s position on the crisis hasn’t shifted.

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