Saturday, April 21, 2018

Syria troops move on new rebel areas near capital

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Syrian troops battled army defectors in a string of towns in the mountains overlooking Damascus on Wednesday in a new assault to crush rebellious areas around the capital, activists said.

The battles in a mountain valley came after regime forces succeeded in largely retaking control of suburbs on the eastern side of the city in an offensive the past week that fueled some of the bloodiest days of the nearly 11-month-old uprising. More than 30 people were killed across the country Wednesday, activists said.

Activists say President Bashar Assad's forces have intensified their crackdown in hopes of silencing protesters and the army dissidents who have joined them as the U.N. Security Council debates a draft resolution aimed at halting the violence in Syria and demanding that Assad step down. Diplomats claimed considerable progress Wednesday toward overcoming Russian objections, but demands that Assad resign remained a major sticking point.

That rebels made it to the doorstep of Damascus, the seat of Assad's power, was a dangerous development for the regime. Rebel soldiers had grown bolder, setting up checkpoints and protecting protesters in suburbs surrounding Damascus.

The United Nations estimated several weeks ago that more than 5,400 people have been killed in the Syrian government crackdown, but has not been able to update the figure.

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