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22 February 2024

Power restored to most of Syrian capital; rebels clash with government troops across country


Electricity has been restored in most parts of the Syrian capital and power will gradually reach the south, a top Syrian government official said Sunday as fighting raged in at least three provinces between rebels and troops loyal to President Bashar Assad.

The Syrian capital's 2.5 million residents have grown used to frequent power cuts as the country's nearly 2-year-old conflict has damaged infrastructure and sapped government revenue. A fuel shortage makes it hard for residents to run backup generators.

The power outage plunged Damascus into darkness late Saturday and affected much of southern Syria, mainly the provinces of Daraa and Sweida along the Jordanian border.

Electricity Minister Imad Khamis told the state news agency, SANA, that technical teams were working around the clock to restore power in the south. He blamed the blackout on an unspecified fault in high-tension lines.

A similar blackout struck the same areas on Jan. 20. The government blamed that outage on a rebel attack, and power was restored to most areas the following day.

Also on Sunday, a Britain-based rights group reported that at least six rebel field fighters were killed in clashes with Assad's army in the suburbs of the capital, the northern province of Hama and the southern restive town of Daraa.

In Hama's suburbs, rebels with the Free Syrian Army took over a police checkpoint and destroyed an army tank, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The U.N. says nearly 70,000 people have been killed in Syria's conflict since the revolt began in March 2011.

In a related development, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay pressed for international action to help stem the bloodshed, but acknowledged that achieving that won't be easy. She alleged that Assad's regime had committed crimes against humanity and should be referred to the International Criminal Court.

"It's an intergovernmental decision on what kind of action — intervention, peacekeeping, military intervention or a referral to the International Criminal Court," Pillay told British television Channel 4 in an interview broadcast Saturday night.

"We urge that action be taken immediately," she said. "If there is doubt and hesitation, it's because people are assessing the value of military intervention in places like Libya, Syria and Afghanistan — that it could become a long, drawn-out war with no guarantees that civilians will not be harmed in that process."