Middle East

Fierce battles in Damascus outskirts: activists

Free Syrian Army fighters prepare their weapons in Sidi Meqdad area in the suburbs of Damascus March 25, 2013. Picture taken March 25, 2013. REUTERS/Ward Al-Keswani/Shaam News Network/Handout

BEIRUT: Fresh battles raged Thursday in flashpoint districts on the outskirts of Damascus, activists said, while army tanks pounded insurgent enclaves near the Syrian capital.

"Fierce battles broke out at dawn on Thursday pitting rebels against troops in the (northeastern) district of Qaboon, while tanks shelled the neighbourhood's edges," said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Clashes also raged on a main road linking the southern Damascus area of Yarmuk to Al-Hajar Al-Aswad, said the Britain-based group.

Both districts have seen intermittent fighting in recent months, with rebels taking up positions all along the capital's southern belt despite consistent army attempts to force the insurgency out of the city.

Fighting was also reported in the southwestern district of Qadam, said the Observatory, while army tanks pounded the nearby town of Daraya, keeping up a relentless weeks-long assault aimed at crushing insurgents.

Damascus has suffered an escalation in violence in recent days. Rebels have stepped up mortar attacks on districts in the heart of the capital and the army has clashed daily with insurgents in several neighbourhoods.

"The fighting is slowly escalating in Damascus," said Ahmad al-Khatib, a Damascus province-based spokesman of the Syrian Revolution General Commission, a network of activists on the ground.

"In recent days we have seen frequent clashes around Abbasiyeen square, which is one of the capital's main squares," he told AFP via the Internet, adding rebels were infiltrating the northeast of the capital through Adra village.

Thursday's violence comes a day after at least 148 people were killed in violence across Syria, the Observatory said. Among them were 63 civilians, 28 soldiers and 57 rebel fighters.

More than 70,000 people have died in Syria's two-year conflict, the UN says.





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