The outskirts of the Syrian capital have been rocked by clashes a day after rebels seized a key airbase in the north, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said.

The Britain-based watchdog said on Saturday that two children and two men were killed when Mleha, just southeast of Damascus, was bombarded, and that two rebels battling forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad were also killed there.

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Mleha's outskirts are next to Jaramana, a regime-held majority Christian and Druze suburb, some of whose residents have struggled to remain neutral in the country's spiralling conflict.

Meanwhile, Syrian troops have captured most of a strategic Damascus suburb used by rebels as a base to threaten key regime facilities in the capital, a government official said Saturday.

The SOHR gave a preliminary toll of at least 22 people killed nationwide on Saturday.

Among Friday's casualties were nine rebels, eight soldiers and two regime militiamen killed when rebels overran the key Taftanaz air base in northwestern Syria, in one of their most important military gains to date.

Capturing Taftanaz, from which regime forces launched deadly helicopter gunship sorties, eases the pressure on rebels who already control large swathes of Syria's north and east.

Government forces managed to evacuate most of the 60 helicopters deployed there, leaving behind 20 that are no longer serviceable, the observatory said.

Intelligence official 'defects'

Meanwhile, a man identifying himself as a senior foreign intelligence official has announced his defection in a video statement posted on the internet.

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"I, Jumaa Farraj Jassem, head of Section 30 of the foreign service of the General Intelligence Directorate, announce my defection from this criminal regime, as I join the ranks of this blessed revolution," said the man.

The AFP news agency was unable to verify the authenticity of the video, which was posted on Friday.

Assad's government has been hit by thousands of low and mid-level defections since the Syrian crisis broke out nearly 22 months ago.

Most recently, a Syrian airforce pilot defected with his MiG 23 jet and landed in Adana, Turkey on January 5.

On December 28, the head of Syria’s military police defected, accusing the army of having turned into "murderous gangs".

The UN says that more than 60,000 people have died in the Syria conflict which began in mid-March 2011 with peaceful protests that quickly erupted into deadly violence in the wake of a regime crackdown.

Source: Agencies