Airstrikes in Damascus (1 Viewer)

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Syrian Jets Blast Rebels In Damascus Suburb

Nov. 21, 2012.

AMMAN/BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian warplanes bombed a Damascus suburb on Wednesday in a push to dislodge rebels from a stronghold that threatens President Bashar al-Assad's hold on the capital, opposition activists said.

Heavy fighting also raged in other outskirts of the city in the most serious challenge to Assad's seat of power in months.

In Brussels, NATO envoys were considering a request by Turkey to deploy Patriot missiles its territory to defend itself against any Syrian attacks.

Even though the measure is aimed at preventing a spill-over of the 20-month-old conflict into Syria's neighbors, it signaled a creeping internationalization of the conflict.

After months of slow progress, the rebels have in the last few weeks captured several army positions on the outskirts of Damascus and outlying regions, including a special forces base near Aleppo, Syria's commercial hub, and an air defense position near Damascus's southern gate.

Assad's opponents are also gaining support internationally with a new coalition of opposition and rebel groups seeking recognition as the legitimate voice of the Syrian people.

Shashank Joshi of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London said the developments of the last few weeks were shifting the balance in favor of the rebels.

"The use of the world 'stalemate' to describe the conflict may no longer be appropriate," he told Reuters by phone. "The rebels have moved up the ladder of warfare."

On Wednesday, MiG fighter jets launched a second day of raids on the opposition-held suburb of Daraya, set in farmland near the main southern highway, where rebels have been battling elite Republican Guard units.

Live footage broadcast by the opposition on the Internet showed heavy smoke rising from a built-up area in Daraya and carried the sound of automatic gun fire.

The pro-government al-Ekhbariya television said the army had begun a campaign to "cleanse" Daraya of what it described as terrorists, and showed troops on the edge of the town.

Activists reported 23 people killed in two days.

But rebels and activists suggested Assad's forces were finding it harder to dislodge the rebels than when they last entered the suburb in August.

A government offensive to oust Free Syrian Army fighters from Daraya then killed 1,000 people after rebels took over the town, established a local administration and began attacking loyalist targets in Damascus, according to opposition sources.

"The military picture seems to have changed since August. The regime is sending troops under tank and air cover but they have not really advanced into Daraya," activist Abu Kinan said by phone from the town.

"Last time the rebels made a decision to withdraw after the army's bombing killed a large number of civilians. There are civilians left in Daraya but the bulk had fled and the fighters are holding their ground," he said.

The official SANA news agency said that "terrorists" - a term it uses for rebels - had attacked shops and homes in Daraya, as well as a mosque.

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