Syrian jets blast rebels in Damascus suburb

Wed Nov 21, 2012 6:59pm EST
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By Khaled Yacoub Oweis and Oliver Holmes

AMMAN/BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian warplanes bombed a Damascus suburb on Wednesday in a push to dislodge rebels from a stronghold that threatens President Bashar al-Assad's hold on the capital, opposition activists said.

Heavy fighting also raged in other outskirts of the city in the most serious challenge to Assad's seat of power in months.

In Brussels, NATO envoys were considering a request by Turkey to deploy Patriot missiles its territory to defend itself against any Syrian attacks.

Even though the measure is aimed at preventing a spill-over of the 20-month-old conflict into Syria's neighbors, it signaled a creeping internationalization of the conflict.

After months of slow progress, the rebels have in the last few weeks captured several army positions on the outskirts of Damascus and outlying regions, including a special forces base near Aleppo, Syria's commercial hub, and an air defense position near Damascus's southern gate.

Assad's opponents are also gaining support internationally with a new coalition of opposition and rebel groups seeking recognition as the legitimate voice of the Syrian people.

Shashank Joshi of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London said the developments of the last few weeks were shifting the balance in favor of the rebels.

"The use of the world 'stalemate' to describe the conflict may no longer be appropriate," he told Reuters by phone. "The rebels have moved up the ladder of warfare."   Continued...

A man walks past buildings damaged after Syrian Air Force fighter jets loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad fired missiles, in Erbeen, near Damascus November 20, 2012. REUTERS/Bassam al-Erbeeni/Shaam News Network/Handout