Sunday, February 25, 2018

Syrian troops and rebels battle outside capital

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Syrian government troops battled rebels in several areas outside Damascus on Sunday while regime warplanes bombed opposition-held areas around the capital, including an airstrike on one village that killed at least seven people, activists said.

Rebels seeking to topple President Bashar Assad have seized swaths of territory in northern Syria but have become bogged down in their push for Damascus, where government troops are still firmly in control. While the opposition fighters have established footholds in suburbs east and south of the capital, Assad's forces have kept them from advancing into the heart of the city and regularly hit them with artillery and airstrikes.

Much of the fighting Sunday was focused in areas east and south of the city, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, while government jets were bombing rebel areas.

An airstrike on the village of al-Barika, southeast of the capital, killed at least seven people, including five members of the same family, the Observatory said.

The Syrian government does not respond to requests for comment on military actions.

The state news agency said Sunday that troops had killed "scores of terrorists" in two rebellious southern suburbs of Damascus. The government considers the rebels and its other internal opponents "terrorists" backed by foreign powers that seek to destroy Syria.

Syria's government has been accused of war crimes throughout the conflict and at least 56 countries have co-signed a petition calling on the U.N. Security Council to refer the issue to the International Criminal Court. The Security Council, however, remains split.

Syria's crisis began in March 2011 with protests calling for political reform that the government quickly repressed. It has since evolved into a civil war with rebel groups fighting the government.

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