November 15, 2014

BEIRUT (AP) — Rare internal fighting broke out in a rebel stronghold east of the capital Damascus between armed residents and members of a powerful opposition faction, activists said Saturday.

The activists said the fighting broke out Friday and continued Saturday between residents and members of the Islamic Army in the suburb of Douma that is almost surrounded by forces loyal to President Bashar Assad.

A Syria-based activist who goes by the name of Mohammed Orabi said the clashes began when residents attacked the storage units of influential merchants who dominate the local food distribution business to protest high prices.

Orabi and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said guards at the units opened fire, seriously wounding several residents. The Observatory said one of the storage units attacked is controlled by the Justice Charitable Institution that is close to the Islamic Army.

The Islamic Army, a powerful rebel faction which tightly controls Douma, receives funding from some of these merchants, activists say, and is fighting local residents to defend them. “People are angry with the Islamic Army because they back the merchants,” Orabi said via Skype. “People want the prices to go down.”

“The fighting has been ongoing since yesterday,” he added saying that at least 11 people have been wounded. Also Saturday, the Observatory, which relies on a network of activists around the country, said the government air force has conducted 581 airstrikes since the beginning of November, killing at least 115 people including 19 children.

The group said the airstrikes were carried out by warplanes and helicopter gunships. They also wounded 370 people and caused wide damage in provinces including Homs, Hama, Aleppo, Idlib and Daraa. Activists say more than 200,000 people have been killed in Syria since protests against Assad spiraled into violence in 2011.