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Assad forces retake captured districts

Syrian tank destroyed by rebels.

DAMASCUS — Syrian troops have driven rebel fighters out of two districts of Damascus a week after the insurgents launched a major assault on the capital.

Government troops retook control of the Damascus neighbourhood of Mezzeh yesteray and executed at least 20 unarmed men who they suspected of aiding rebels, opposition activists in the district said.

In Barzeh, members of the Syrian army’s Fourth Division under the command of President Bashar al-Assad’s brother executed several young men during an operation to regain control of the northern Damascus district, a witness and activists said.

Government forces have launched a determined counter-offensive since rebels brought their battle to overthrow Assad to the capital and killed four of the president’s closest associates in a bomb attack last Wednesday.

In a further escalation of a conflict rapidly becoming a civil war, fighting raged around the intelligence headquarters in Syria’s biggest city, Aleppo, and in Deir al-Zor in the east.

Syrian forces regained control of one of two border crossings seized by rebels on the frontier with Iraq, Iraqi officials said, but rebels said they had captured a third border crossing with Turkey: Bab al-Salam, north of Aleppo.

“Seizing the border crossings does not have strategic importance but it has a psychological impact because it demoralises Assad’s force,” a senior Syrian army defector in Turkey, Staff Brigadier Faiz Amr, told Reuters by phone.

“It’s a show of progress for the revolutionaries, despite the superior firepower of Assad’s troops.”

Rebels also seized an army infantry school in the town of Musalmiyeh, 16 kilometres north of Aleppo, and captured several loyalist officers, while others defected, a senior military defector in Turkey and rebel sources inside Syria said.

“This is of big strategic and symbolic importance. The school has ammunition depots and armored formations and it protects the northern gate to Aleppo,” Brigadier General Mustafa al-Sheikh told Reuters by phone from the town of Apayden on the Turkish border. (Reuters)

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