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Last updated: March 17. 2013 2:53AM - 129 Views

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(AP) Syrian fighter jets on Sunday bombed Damascus suburbs as part of a government offensive to dislodge rebels from strategic areas around the capital, activists said, as clashes raged around army bases and air fields in the country's north.


The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said warplanes were hitting towns and villages around the capital, including Kfar Batna and Gesereen, while regime forces targeted other neighborhoods with artillery and mortars.


It also said regime troops were battling rebels in the suburb of Daraya a day after government officials claimed the army had taken much of the strategic area, which lies on the edge of a major military air base southwest of the capital. In northern Syria, government forces were fighting rebels over an air base and the international airport of the city of Aleppo, which includes a military base.


Syrian troops have been pushing since November to regain Daraya, which had a population of about 200,000 before the fighting.


Observatory director Rami Abdul-Rahman said government troops now control more than half of the suburb, which has been a stronghold of support for the rebels since the start of the uprising against President Bashar Assad began in March 2011.


Because of its strategic location, rebel control of the Daraya poses a particularly grave threat to the capital.


The suburb is flanked by the key districts of Mazzeh, which is home to the military air base of the same name, and Kfar Sousseh, which holds the government headquarters, the General Security intelligence agency head office and the Interior Ministry. It also is less than 10 kilometers (six miles) from a presidential palace.


While Assad's loyalists appear to have an upper hand in the Damascus front due to the regime's airpower, the rebels dealt the government a major blow in the north by capturing a sprawling air base in Idlib province on Friday.


Rebels retained control of the Taftanaz base Sunday and intensified their assault on the Mannagh air base and the international airport in Aleppo, the country's largest city, activists said.


Among the rebels taking part in the battle are fighters from Jabhat al-Nustra, an Islamist group that the U.S. has branded a terrorist organization. Washington claims the group, which has been among the most organized and effective rebel forces on the ground, is affiliated with al-Qaida.


Syrian official statements regularly play up the role of Islamist extremists in the civil war and refer to the rebels as terrorists.


More than 60,000 people have been killed since the revolt started almost two years ago.


Associated Press
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