Syria rebels win support from Britain, battle in Damascus

Tue Nov 20, 2012 4:13pm EST
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By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

AMMAN (Reuters) - Syrian government troops backed by tanks battled to oust rebel forces from an opposition stronghold in a Damascus suburb on Tuesday in the heaviest fighting in the capital for months.

In the country's north, rebel fighters stormed an air defense base that President Bashar al-Assad's military had used to bombard areas near the Turkish border.

On the international front, the Turkish foreign minister said NATO states had agreed to supply Turkey with a Patriot missile system to defend against Syrian cross-border shelling.

Although any such deployment would be for defensive purposes only, it nonetheless marked a hardening stance in the foreign effort to remove Assad.

The rebels also received a diplomatic lift with Britain officially recognizing the opposition Syrian National Coalition, set up this month to boost their chances of securing foreign aid and arms, as the Syrian people's legitimate representative.

It was the ninth country to do so following France, Turkey and the Gulf Arab states.

After months of slow progress marked by poor organization and supply problems, the rebels have captured several army positions in outlying regions in the last week, including a Special Forces base near Aleppo, Syria's commercial hub.

They are also trying to take the 20-month-old revolt to the heart of Damascus, Assad's seat of power, and have dubbed this week "March to Damascus Week".   Continued...

Buildings damaged after shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad are seen at Douma near Damascus November 19, 2012. REUTERS/Abed Al-Kareem Muhammad/Shaam News Network/Handout