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Syrian death toll rises

Members of the Free Syrian Army exchange places as they take cover

ALEPPO — Troops and tanks swept into a town near Damascus yesterday in an assault aimed at crushing opposition to President Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s increasingly bloody civil war.

Artillery and helicopters hammered the Sunni Muslim town of Daraya, killing 25 people and wounding 200 over the last 48 hours, opposition sources said. Soldiers moved in and raided houses.

“Artillery is firing from Qasioun Mountain in regular bursts of heavy barrages. I wonder what is left of the town,” said one woman watching the shelling from Damascus.

At least 100 people, including 59 civilians, died in violence across the country, according to the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Some 200 were killed on Wednesday.

There was little resistance as Assad’s forces pushed toward the centre of Daraya on the southwest edge of Damascus. Armed rebels had apparently already left.

“They are using mortar bombs to clear each sector. Then they enter it, while moving towards the centre,” said Abu Zeid, an activist speaking by phone from near Daraya.

Assad’s military had driven insurgents from most of the areas they seized in and around the capital after a bomb killed four top security officials on July 18. But rebels have crept back, regrouping without taking on the army in pitched battles.

Tanks and troops attacked the southwest Damascus suburb of Mouadamiya on Monday and Tuesday, killing 86 people, half of them in cold blood, according to Assad’s opponents.

It is hard to verify such assertions due to state curbs on independent media. Syrian leaders say they are fighting “armed terrorists” backed by Western and Gulf Arab nations out to topple Assad for his resistance to Israel and the United States. (Reuters)

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