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Middle East

Syrian forces retake key town from rebels

Government forces capture Mleiha on the outskirts of capital Damascus after months-long fighting with rebels.

Last updated: 15 Aug 2014 21:25
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Mleiha was used by rebels to fire rockets at government buildings in Damascus [AFP]

Syrian government forces have seized a key town on the outskirts of the capital Damascus after a months-long battle against rebels, a military source and state television said.

"The army, with the cooperation of the National Defence Forces [militia], has accomplished its mission of restoring stability and security to Mleiha," the army command said in a statement.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based group, backed up the report.

The army said Mleiha would now serve as a springboard for its bid to regain control of Eastern Ghouta, an important rebel bastion outside Damascus that has long been in the sights of government forces.

State television broadcast live from Mleiha, showing streets with holes punched through homes by rockets and twisted metal from telephone line poles.

 

Mleiha lies southeast of the capital and has been a key flashpoint in fighting around Damascus.

Government troops, backed at times by fighters from the allied Lebanese Shia group Hezbollah, have been battling rebel forces there since April.

The area has been under siege for more than a year, and under near-constant bombardment by government forces.

The chief of Syria's air defence forces, General Hussein Isaac, was killed in fighting there in May.

"Taking back Mleiha would allow the regime to protect parts of Damascus from rebel rocket fire on the capital," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.

"It is also the gateway to Eastern Ghouta," he added.

While the government retains firm control over Damascus, rebels have several rear bases around the city, from which they regularly launch rockets.

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