Syrian army advances in strategic Damascus suburb

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 12, 2013 at 1:31 pm •  Published: January 12, 2013
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A visit to the area earlier this week showed the desperate circumstances facing the residents under siege.

Earlier this week, one man who stood in front of his destroyed apartment said he had taken his family to Damascus for safety and returned to get some belongings. "As you can see, my home is totally destroyed. May God help me," the man said.

Inside a makeshift hospital, a medical student who identified himself only as Samih was trying to remove shrapnel from the shoulder of a rebel on a stretcher. "I haven't slept for two days," Samih said, also complaining about lack medical supplies.

Syria's pro-government media had reported that thousands of rebel fighters from the extremist Jabhat al-Nusra group have holed up in Daraya in preparation to storm Damascus.

Jabhat al-Nusra, which has been branded a terrorist organization by the U.S. and which Washington claims is affiliated with al-Qaida, has been among the most effective fighting forces on the rebel side. Syrian official statements regularly play up the role of Islamist extremists in the civil war and refer to the rebels as terrorists.

Syrian TV reported Saturday afternoon that Syrian troops are "chasing the remnants of armed terrorists groups in Daraya, killing a number of snipers."

The Observatory said other Damascus suburbs also were being shelled on Saturday and a car bomb exploded in the suburb of Sbaineh, causing heavy damage. It was not clear if the blast caused casualties, it said.

An amateur video posted online by activists showed several heavy damaged buildings by the blast. The video appeared genuine and corresponded to other AP reporting on the events depicted.

The group also said Syrian warplanes attacked eastern suburbs of Damascus including Mleiha, as well as the rebel-held town of Rastan near the central city of Homs.

More than 60,000 people have been killed since the 22-month conflict started.

Rebels maintained control of the Taftanaz field in Idlib province on Saturday and intensified their assault on the Mannagh air base and the international airport of the city of Aleppo, which includes a military base, activists said.

Syrian TV reported Saturday that the army repelled attackers targeting Aleppo's Kishek airport and inflicted casualties. It gave no further details. The Observatory reported Saturday that warplanes carried out air raids around the Aleppo airport.

On the diplomatic front, Russia, one of Assad's last remaining allies, said Saturday it is still strongly against any foreign interference in Syria's affairs.

"As before, we strongly believe that all the issues concerning Syria's future must be decided by the Syrians themselves, without outside interference or the imposition of ready-made recipes for development," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

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Mroue reported from Beirut. Associated Press writers Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow and a journalist in Daraya, Syria, contributed to this report.

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