21 dead in Damascus as Syrian forces, rebels trade salvos

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, smoke rises after rebels fired rockets and mortar shells that struck several parts in the capital Damascus, in Damascus, Syria, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015.

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syrian government forces and rebel forces traded salvos of rockets and mortar shells Thursday around Damascus, killing at least 21 people in tit-for-tat violence.

Outside observers said anti-government forces struck first, after a rebel commander vowed to hit government-held areas of the Syrian capital to avenge the past week’s strikes by government warplanes on opposition-held suburbs. That commander, Zahran Alloush of the Army of Islam rebel group, said in a tweet that his forces would keep firing mortars and rockets “until the capital is cleansed.”

The state-run SANA news agency reported that at least five people were killed in the rebels’ barrage. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll higher at nine, and said rebels fired at least 60 mortar shells toward the city…

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