Roundup: Syrian troops sweep into key eastern suburb of Damascus
DAMASCUS, July 12 (Xinhua) -- The Syrian army has advanced in a key suburb east of the capital Damascus, completely besieging more than 400 rebel fighters in that key area, whose recapture would largely contribute to enhancing the security situation in the capital, a senior military source told Xinhua Saturday.
The eastern town of Mleiha in the countryside of the capital Damascus has fallen to the Syrian troops, which are now besieging about 400 fighters from the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front inside that area, the senior military officer told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.
He said the recent achievement came after a series of " intensive and precise" operations by the Syrian army, which has struck a siege around the area on Friday, tightening thus the noose on the armed rebels and cutting their supply lines.
He said the armed militant groups had become completely trapped in Mleiha, which is deemed by the rebels as strategically important due to its proximity to the capital.
For its part, the state news agency SANA said the Syrian troops eliminated many "terrorists," many of whom are foreigners, at the outskirts of Mleiha.
The pro-government Sham FM radio cited a military source at the site as saying that the rebels in Mleiha are urging the Syrian troops via loudspeakers to stop their fire and open a route for them to withdraw from the town into other rebel-held areas in the eastern countryside of Damascus.
Meanwhile, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Syrian government forces shelled parts of the Mleiha orchards overnight, causing injuries. The Observatory spelled no further details.
Other activists groups in the countryside of Damascus held the so-called Islam Army responsible for the loss of Mleiha as the Islam Army leader, Zahran Alloush, directed his forces to the Mesraba town in the northeastern countryside of Damascus to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an al-Qaida- breakaway group that has recently declared the establishment of an Islamic State in areas under its control in Iraq and Syria and shortened its name to the Islamic State only.
The ISIL has been deadlocked in battles with other rebel groups in northern and eastern Syria and the Islam Army under the leadership of Alloush wanted to put an end to the ISIL presence in the countryside of Damascus.
Activists said that Alloush's army recaptured Mesraba and flushed out the ISIL fighters from that spot.
The battles in Mleiha has been incessant since more than three months ago, as the area is deemed one of the most important strongholds for the armed rebels and the area where most of the mortar shells, which are targeting the capital, were manufactured and fired from.
The Damascenes have always complained of the blind mortar shells fired by the rebels into the capital as such shells strike residential areas, hospitals and schools, largely killing civilians without achieving their originally declared goals. The rebels always contend that their mortar shells are aimed at security branches and military outposts, but such mortars largely hit civilians only.
In parallel with the Syrian troops' advancement in the countryside of the capital, the authorities have started removing key roadblocks on main streets in the capital, in a sign of an improvement in the security situation in Damascus.
Muin Amatury, a political analyst, told Xinhua that opening blocked roads and removing checkpoints from the capital is a sign that the Syrian army has become "relaxed" and it gives the feeling that Damascus has become more secure following the defeats the Syrian army is dealing for the armed militant groups.