Syria troops retake most of key Damascus suburb: NGO
BEIRUT - Agence France-Presse
A man and a child walk past debris following a reported air strike by Syrian government forces on June 20, 2014, in the northern city of Aleppo. AFP PhotoSyrian government forces have retaken most of a key Damascus suburb they have been fighting for months to recapture from rebel forces, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Thursday.
Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said the army had "control over most of Mleiha, though there are still some clashes".
There was no immediate confirmation from Syrian state media or government officials.
But a military source told AFP that the army was "continuing its operations in Mleiha and realising qualitative successes".
He said troops had "killed a large number of terrorists and are pursuing others in the fields to the north of the area".
Mleiha, which lies southeast of the capital, has been a key flashpoint in the fighting around Damascus.
Government troops, backed at times by fighters from the allied Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, have been battling there since April.
The area has been under siege for more than a year, and under near-constant bombardment by government forces.
The chief of Syria's air defence forces, General Hussein Isaac, was killed in fighting there in May.
Mleiha is strategic because it lies next to the key rebel bastion of Eastern Ghouta outside the capital, which the regime has also struggled to recapture.
"Taking back Mleiha would allow the regime to protect parts of Damascus from rebel rocket fire on the capital," Abdul Rahman said.
"It is also the gateway to Eastern Ghouta," he added.
While the government retains firm control over Damascus, rebels have several rear bases around the city, from which they regularly launch rockets.
Elsewhere in Syria, the Observatory said Islamic State jihadists had beheaded at least nine opposition fighters on Wednesday night, after seizing several northern villages.
The extremist group, which has been battling other Islamist and moderate opposition groups in large parts of Syria, took control of eight villages between the Turkish border and the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on Wednesday.
The Observatory said at least 40 rebels were killed in the fighting, along with 12 IS militants.
Another 50 rebels were taken prisoner by the jihadists, and the Observatory said on Thursday that nine had been beheaded in Akhatarin, which was captured in the IS advance.
IS grew from Al-Qaeda's one-time Iraqi branch and originally fought alongside Syria's rebel groups, but it has been denounced by Al-Qaeda's leader and other opposition groups have turned against it.
In January, a coalition of Islamist and moderate opposition fighters began battling IS, forcing it to retreat for a time to its stronghold in Raqa province.
But with the capture of large swathes of Iraqi territory across the border, as well as heavy military equipment, the group has since managed to regain some lost ground in Syria.