Fierce Battles in Damascus Districts and Assad Offers Kidnappers Amnesty Deal
Fighting between rebels and loyalist forces raged in two Damascus neighborhoods on Tuesday while shelling of a village near the Syrian capital left four members of a family dead, a watchdog said.
"Fierce battles broke out in the Barzeh district of northern Damascus. Shelling in the area wounded five people and caused material damage," said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The monitoring group later said at least seven people had been killed in the neighborhood, one by a sniper and the others in shelling.
"Clashes also raged in the outskirts of Jobar (in eastern Damascus), next to Abbasiyeen Square," it added, referring to one of the capital's main squares.
Violence has escalated in Damascus in recent weeks as the army battles to push back insurgents seeking to penetrate the capital from enclaves on its outskirts.
Shelling on al-Hajar al-Aswad in southern Damascus killed at least three men and wounded more than 20 civilians, the Observatory said.
In Mqailyabeh in Damascus province, large swathes of which are under insurgent control, army shelling killed a three-year-old boy, his five-year-old sister, their mother and grandmother, the group added.
Elsewhere in the country, the Observatory said gunmen loyal to the Syrian regime had kidnapped passengers from a bus carrying residents of the town of Maaret Masrin, in the northern province of Idlib.
The Observatory -- which relies on a broad network of activists, doctors and lawyers for its reporting -- said at least 78 people had been killed so far on Tuesday.
A day earlier it announced that March was the deadliest month in Syria's two-year conflict, according to its count, with more than 6,000 people killed.
The U.N. says more than 70,000 people have been killed since March 2011, when a protest movement broke out against President Bashar Assad.
Meanwhile, also on Tuesday, Assad offered an amnesty deal to kidnappers in the war-torn country, giving them 15 days to hand over victims or face a life of hard labor, state news agency SANA said.
Kidnappers who do not release victims within the 15 days will be sentenced to "a life of hard labor", or executed if their victims have been killed or sexually abused, SANA said.
"Anyone who has kidnapped a person for a ransom and deprived him of his liberty for political, financial or sectarian reasons will be sentenced to a life of hard labor," said the decree, according to SANA.
Kidnappers will be "executed if the crime led to the (victim's) death or permanent disability, as well as in case of sexual assault", the decree added.
It promises amnesty to "anyone who has kidnapped a person and sets him free or hands him over to the competent authorities within 15 days of the decree's entry into force", SANA said.
Kidnapping is rife in Syria, where a two-year conflict has left more than 70,000 people dead, according to the United Nations.
Monitors say money is a key motive for kidnapping, but sectarian attacks are on the rise in a country where the majority of rebels, like the population, are Sunnis, while Assad and several of his close associates belong to the Alawite community.