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Mortars fall near Syrian presidential palace

Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - 17:58

At least two mortar shells fell Tuesday near the southern fence of the Syrian presidential palace in Damascus, which activists said is the closet attack yet to one of President Bashar al-Assad's residences, DPA reported.
An official source confirmed to the state news agency SANA that shells fired by "terrorists" fell near the Tishreen Palace, west of the capital, resulting only in material damage.

The palace is located near the highly-secured Mezze neighbourhood. Opposition fighters claimed the source of the shelling was the rebel-held Daraya suburb.

It was unclear if al-Assad was in the palace at the time of attack.

A resident in the area told dpa at least three explosions were heard and some windows in nearby buildings were shattered.

The Tishreen Palace is where al-Assad usually receive foreign dignitaries. He has two other palaces in the city: one in Kassoiun area and another in the central luxurious neighbourhood Abu Rummaneh.

"We will hit more closer in the coming days," Abu al-Fadel, a commander in the hardline al-Nousra Front, fighting with the rebel Free Syrian Army in Daraya told dpa by phone.

In the northern province of Aleppo, 10 children were among at least 23 people killed after troops shelled the Jabal Badero area, hours after the government expressed readiness to hold talks with the rebels.

Activists said the neighbourhood was hit by five Scud missiles.

The attacks came a day after National Reconciliation Minister Ali Haidar said his country was prepared to talk with armed opposition groups - the first time in the nearly two-year-old conflict that the government has offered to hold direct negotiations with rebels, whom it has long dismissed as "terrorists."

Earlier this month, the main opposition group said it was ready for dialogue with representative of the Syrian regime, focusing on the departure of al-Assad from power.

But the government said it will not accept any pre-conditions for the talks.

Elsewhere, Lebanese media quoted a statement by the Free Syrian Army giving the Muslim-Shiite movement, Hezbollah, 48 hours to cease attacks in Syria before it "retaliates" in Lebanon.

The FSA said that it will "retaliate to the source of fire and will so inside Lebanese territory."

The statement came following claims that Hezbollah was fighting alongside the Syrian forces in areas across the war-torn country. Hezbollah, which is backed and financed by Iran, is a key ally of al-Assad's regime.

On Sunday, three Lebanese militants, who allegedly belong to the group, were killed in clashes in central Syria.

Meanwhile, Moscow sent two planes to Syria carrying 46 tonnes of humanitarian aid, which might also evacuate Russian nationals who want to leave the war-torn country, Interfax quoted the civil defense ministry as saying.

In January, Moscow evacuated 77 citizens through Lebanon after the situation around Damascus deteriorated.

In Geneva, the UN refugee agency said the number of Syrians who have fled their country has exceeded 850,000.

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