Syrian forces pound Damascus outskirts

Activist group says troops targeted rebel positions with artillery and air strikes in bid to secure the capital.

    Forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad have been trying to establish a secure perimeter around Damascus [AFP]
    Forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad have been trying to establish a secure perimeter around Damascus [AFP]

    Syrian forces have pounded rebel positions around Damascus with artillery and air strikes in the latest attempt by the government to secure the capital, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said.

    The London-based group, which relies on a network of local activists for its information, said on Sunday the fighting broke out in Irbin, a town east of Damascus.

    It gave no figures on casaulties in Sunday's fighting, but put Saturday's death toll from violence across the country at 116.

    The SOHR said troops also shelled Zabadani to the northwest of the capital and the village of Mliha, leaving many people wounded.

    Mliha, southeast of Damascus, is located in the region of Eastern Ghouta, where troops have launched a drive to secure the airport highway.

    Forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, have been trying to establish a secure perimeter around Damascus, turning the region into one of the main battlegrounds in the country's 20-month conflict, which has killed at least 40,000 people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee the country.

    In Saturday's fighting, warplanes hit the Damascus suburbs of Kafar Souseh and Darraya, according to the SOHR.

    "Syrian regular forces are trying to control the areas surrounding the capital," it said. Bombings targeted a continuous arc of rebel presence in the capital's outer districts from the northeast to the southwest.

    Opposition activists reported clashes and air strikes in the provinces of Homs, Deir al-Zor, Idlib and in Aleppo, where they said 14 rebel fighters were killed during an assault on an army base in the town of Khanasser early on Saturday.

    It is difficult to verify such reports due to government restrictions on media access to Syria.

    Internet restored

    Meanwhile, Syria's internet connections were restored on Saturday after a two-day blackout, the worst communications outage since the uprising began.

    The internet was back in most parts of the country, including in Damascus, the northern city of Aleppo, the central cities of Homs and Hama, and the coastal city of Tartus, residents in the areas told Al Jazeera.

    Renesys, a US-based firm that monitors online activity, confirmed a "largely complete" restoration of internet service in Syria.

    Experts said the outage was highly likely to have been caused by the state.

    Assad's government has previously been accused of cutting internet and telephone connections to block opposition activist and rebel communications.

    Authorities had attributed the latest outage to a "terrorist" attack or a technical fault. The government frequently uses the term terrorist to describe opposition fighters.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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