Syrian regime battles rebels outside Damascus



Beirut: Syrian President Bashar Assad's troops battled rebels in the outskirts of Damascus on Wednesday and pressed on with a counteroffensive against opposition fighters in the south to prevent their advance on the capital.

The fighting came as US Secretary of State John Kerry was meeting with Syrian opposition leaders in London to discuss ways to step up aid to rebels fighting to topple the regime in Damascus.

With the recent influx of better weapons and other foreign aid, the rebels have made major gains in the south, seizing military bases and towns in the strategically important region between Damascus and the border with Jordan, about 160 kilometers from the capital.

In their campaign to topple Assad, the opposition fighters hope to eventually storm Damascus from the south.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said today's clashes were focused on opposition strongholds around the capital, including the suburbs of Daraya and Harasta.

Fighting also raged in and around the northern city of Aleppo, Syria's largest city and its main commercial hub, they said.

The activists said both sides sustained losses on the two battlefields. Damascus suburbs and Aleppo have been the scene of major urban warfare in Syria's two-year uprising against Assad's rule. The revolt started as peaceful protests inspired by other Arab Spring uprisings but later descended into civil war.

At least 28 rebels and 13 soldiers were killed in the fighting around Damascus, while 15 opposition fighters and 28 government troops died in the fighting in Aleppo today, the Observatory said.

The group relies on a network of Syria-based activists that have been tracking the number of dead, injured and missing since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011.

The government brought reinforcements to Damascus suburbs and further south on Sunday to regain control of areas the rebels recently captured between the Jordanian border and Damascus, the seat of Assad's power.

Both sides consider Damascus the ultimate prize in the civil war.

PTI