Middle East

Regime pushes to crush rebels near capital

A member of the Syrian army checks the trunk of a car at a checkpoint in Damascus on June 17, 2013. AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA

BEIRUT: Troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad pushed forward in a bid to crush rebel bastions near the capital Damascus Tuesday, an opposition group and activists on the ground said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said troops battled rebels in Zamalka and Mliha east of Damascus, maintained a siege on Douma, also in the east, and fired on Daraya and Moadamieh al-Sham southwest of the capital.

Meanwhile, clashes pitting rebels against troops raged in the Qadam area, southwest of Damascus, according to the Observatory, which relies on a broad network of activists, doctors and lawyers for its reports.

“The regime is trying to score victories around Damascus to give its supporters a boost of confidence,” Observatory director Rami Abdel-Rahman told AFP.

“But the eastern Ghouta area [east of Damascus] is very different from Qusair” near the border with Lebanon, which fell from rebel hands last month after a three-week battle, he added.

Several flash points lie on a belt surrounding Damascus, stretching from Daraya in the southwest to Douma in the northeast.

Damascus-based activist Ahmad al-Khatib described the eastern Ghouta area as the regime’s “Achilles’ heel” in the Damascus area.

“The regime’s infantry is weak so it resorts to shelling before any ground assault,” Khatib, an activist with the Syrian Revolution General Commission, told AFP.

Activists near Damascus said the humanitarian situation in rebel areas has deteriorated.

“There is no medicine, barely any food. We are eating dry bread, and even that is running out,” said Abu Nadim, based in Douma.

“Though the battles are fierce, no one is winning at the moment.

The army siege is creating a difficult situation, but the [rebel] Free Syrian Army in eastern Ghouta is in a stronger position than it ever was in Qusair,” he told AFP via the Internet.

Southeast of Damascus, meanwhile, battles raged in the Sayyida Zeinab area, pitting rebels against regime and forces from Hezbollah, the Observatory said.

The Lebanese group is engaged in Syria’s war alongside the army in several flash points across the country, chiefly in southeastern Damascus, Homs in central Syria and Aleppo in the north, Abdel-Rahman said.

Assad’s forces nearby pressed Tuesday ahead with an offensive against rebels in Aleppo, with fierce fighting reported in the commercial hub.

Government warplanes also bombed rebel positions near a contested military air base in the north on Tuesday, the Observatory said.

Fighter jets struck near the Kweiras air base near the Turkish border, it reported. Opposition forces fighting to oust Assad’s regime have been trying for months to take Kweiras and two other military air bases nearby.

Assad’s regime has relied heavily in the past year on its air force to neutralize the opposition’s territorial gains.

In the last year, rebels have been able to capture much of the area near the Turkish border, several districts in Aleppo, the whole city of Raqqa and even dams on the Euphrates River.

But they have had difficulty running these areas effectively because of the threat of attack from the air.





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