The Syrian army has killed at least 26 people in suburbs of the capital Damascus in fighting with rebels in several districts along the eastern edge of the capital, activists have said.
President Bashar Assad’s forces have been seeking for months to solidify their hold on Damascus by dislodging opposition fighters from the towns and neighbourhoods on the city’s fringes.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an NGO monitoring the developments in the war-torn country, reported heavy fighting and air strikes on Mleiha, a neighbourhood in the east of the capital, and the nearby Damascus district of Jobar.
Observatory director Rami Abdurrahman said at least 26 rebels have been killed in the clashes since Thursday.
Early on Friday, a series of government air raids targeted Mleiha, killing at least seven people, Ammar al-Hassan, an activist based near Mleiha, told the Associated Press news agency.
“There are very fierce clashes today and the bombardment is very intense,” al-Hassan said by Skype.
He also said the government was focusing on Mleiha because of its location along the main road that links Damascus with Eastern Ghouta, which has long been a predominantly rebel-controlled area.
Another activist on the ground, Abu Saqr, told the AFP news agency” “Assad’s regime has been trying for two days to storm [Mleiha].”
Speaking via Skype, he claimed that the offensive “is being repelled by the [rebel] Free Syrian Army”.
Abu Saqr said fighting on the edges of Mleiha was “very fierce” and that the rebels were up against government troops backed by Syrian and Iraqi pro-regime militiamen.
Part of the government’s desire to flush rebels from outlying areas of the capital is to prevent the opposition fighters from lobbing mortar rounds into neighbourhoods of the capital.
In the northwestern province of Idlib, rebel factions seized control of the town of Baboline and the village of Salihya, the Observatory said on Friday. At least 18 government troops were killed in the fighting, according to the group.
The two communities lie near Syria’s main north-south highway, most of which has been highly contested since 2012.