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Middle East

Syria army advances on key town near Damascus: security

  • An image grab taken from a video uploaded on YouTube on April 22, 2013, allegedly shows a plum of smoke following an explosion at a pro-government army run checkpoint in Mleiha, in the Damascus province. AFP PHOTO/HO/YOUTUBE

DAMASCUS: Syria's army made major advances Sunday on Mleiha, a town strategically located southeast of Damascus near the airport road, a security official said.

"More than half of the town is under army control," the official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"The army has reached the town hall building. All the orchards and roads leading to the town are now in the army's hands, as is the south, the west and the southeast."

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported the advance, but the head of the monitoring group said it was unclear how firmly in control the army was.

Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said: "Regime troops have reached the town centre. Hezbollah is playing the lead role in the battle."

  Hezbollah has sent thousands of fighters into Syria to back President Bashar Assad's regime.

They have been especially active around Damascus, Homs in central Syria and Aleppo in the north.

Like the rest of the Eastern Ghouta area, Mleiha has been under siege for a year, and under a fierce bombardment campaign for weeks.

"Its capture would be very important for the army to secure Jaramana," said Abdel Rahman, referring to a regime-controlled, majority Druze and Christian suburb of Damascus near Mleiha.

Its fall from rebel hands would also be key for the regime's bid to take back the Eastern Ghouta area, a rebel bastion.

 
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