Assad's forces battle to retake Damascus suburb

Mon Dec 31, 2012 12:31pm EST
 
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By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

AMMAN (Reuters) - Elite Syrian government troops backed by tanks battled on Monday to recapture a strategic Damascus suburb from rebels who have advanced within striking distance of the center of Syria's capital.

Five people, including a child, died from army rocket fire that hit the Daraya suburb during the fighting, opposition activists said. Daraya is part of a semi-circle of Sunni Muslim suburbs south of the capital that have been at the forefront of the 21-month-old revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.

"This is the biggest attack on Daraya in two months. An armored column is trying to advance but it is being held (back) by the Free Syrian Army," said Abu Kinan, an opposition activist in the area, referring to a rebel group.

Clashes were also reported near the airport in Aleppo, Syria's largest city, which is in the north. Insurgents have made that airport a target in the hope of limiting government access to Aleppo, which is largely under rebel control.

Rebels have taken much of the north and east of Syria over the past six months, but government forces still hold most of the densely populated southwest around the capital, the main north-south highway and the Mediterranean coast.

Government forces scored a victory on Saturday, pushing rebels out of Deir Baalbeh, a district in Homs, an important central city that straddles the highway linking Damascus with the north and the Mediterranean.

Some opposition activists have said scores or even hundreds of people were executed in Deir Baalbeh by troops that seized it after several days of fighting. However, reports of killings there on a large scale could not be verified.

More than 45,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the 21-month war, the longest and deadliest of the revolts that began throughout the Arab world two years ago. Mainly Sunni Muslim rebels are fighting to topple Assad, a member of the Alawite minority sect whose family has ruled Syria since his father seized power 42 years ago in a coup.   Continued...

 
A view of buildings damaged by what activists said were missiles fired by a Syrian Air Force fighter jet loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in Daraya, near Damascus, December 29, 2012. REUTERS/Kenan Al-Derani/Shaam News Network/Handout