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Syria regime in push to crush rebels near Damascus

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad pushed forward a bid to crush rebel bastions near the capital Damascus on Tuesday, a monitoring group and activists said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said troops battled rebels in Zamalka and Mleiha east of Damascus, maintained a siege on Douma, also in the east, and fired on Daraya and Moadamiyet al-Sham southwest of the capital.

Meanwhile, clashes pitting rebels against troops raged in the Qadam area in the southwest of Damascus, according to the Observatory, which relies on a broad network of activists, doctors and lawyers for its reports.

"The regime is trying to score victories around Damascus to give its supporters a boost of confidence," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

"But the Eastern Ghouta area (east of Damascus) is very different from Qusayr" in central Syria, which fell from rebel hands last month after a three-week battle, Abdel Rahman added.

Several flashpoints lie on a belt surrounding Damascus, stretching from Daraya in the southwest to Douma in the northeast.

Damascus-based activist Ahmad al-Khatib described the Eastern Ghouta area as the regime's "Achilles' heel" in the Damascus area.

"The regime's infantry is weak so it resorts to shelling before any ground assault," Khatib, an activist with the Syrian Revolution General Commission, told AFP.

Activists near Damascus said the humanitarian situation in rebel areas has deteriorated.

"There is no medicine, barely any food. We are eating dry bread, and even that is running out," said Abu Nadim, based in Douma.

"Though the battles are fierce, no one is winning at the moment. The army siege is creating a difficult situation, but the (rebel) Free Syrian Army in Eastern Ghouta is in a stronger position than it ever was in Qusayr," he told AFP via the Internet.

Southeast of Damascus, meanwhile, battles raged in the Sayyida Zeinab area, pitting rebels against regime and forces from the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah, the Observatory said.

The Lebanese group is engaged in Syria's war alongside the army in several flashpoints across the country, chiefly in southeastern Damascus, Homs in central Syria and Aleppo in the north, Abdel Rahman said.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130618/syria-regime-push-crush-rebels-near-damascus