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Syria troops battle rebels around Damascus: Watchdog

The Al-Assad troops renew shelling on several areas of Daraya, which is experiencing a major military operation by army men trying to seize control of the town and its surroundings

AFP , Saturday 8 Dec 2012
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Syrian troops battled rebels near Damascus on Saturday leaving four fighters dead as the army bombarded opposition strongholds in the south of the capital and on its northeastern outskirts, a watchdog said.

The four rebels were killed in clashes around government offices between the towns of Harasta and Irbin northeast of Damascus, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Local Coordination Committees (LCC), a network of activists on the ground, reported rocket fire on both towns and also shelling of Daraya, southwest of the capital.

"There was renewed shelling on several areas of Daraya, which is experiencing a major military operation by troops trying to seize control of the town and its surroundings," the Observatory said.

State television reported that the army had "destroyed a number of vehicles and motorcycles used by terrorists" in Harasta and Daraya, the scene in August of the single deadliest massacre of the 21-month conflict.

For several days, army bombardments have focused on rebel strongholds on the outskirts of Damascus, raising fears of a looming ground assault.

Thirty-one of the 72 people killed nationwide on Friday were killed in the Damascus region, the Observatory said.

In Raqa province near the Turkish border, government aircraft bombed rebel positions in the town of Tal Abyad, the Britain-based watchdog said.

The rebel-held town of Rastan in the central province of Homs came under army shelling, it added. The LCC reported that "dozens were injured and a number of houses destroyed by fierce artillery fire by regime forces."

Rastan, Qusayr and rebel-held neighbourhoods of Homs city have been under siege by the army for months.

In all, more than 42,000 people have been killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's rule erupted in March last year, according to the Observatory's figures.

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