Syrian forces retake Damascus suburb

Assad victory seen as setback for rebels

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BEIRUT — Syr­ian forces re­gained con­trol over a stra­te­gic sub­urb of the cap­i­tal Thurs­day, as reb­els un­der heavy bom­bard­ment said they were forced to with­draw.

The fall of Mleiha, the Da­mas­cus sub­urb that the reb­els had con­trolled for nearly two years, is a ma­jor set­back for the be­lea­guered op­po­si­tion, which has seen its hold over much of the coun­try weaken over the past year. With Mleiha in gov­ern­ment hands, other rebel strong­holds in the Ghouta Shar­qia area, east of the cap­i­tal, are even more vul­ner­a­ble to ad­vances by mil­i­tary forces.

Hun­dreds of reb­els in Mleiha were forced to pull out af­ter com­ing un­der in­tense air and mor­tar bom­bard­ment by gov­ern­ment forces and Hez­bol­lah mil­i­tants, said Abu Yazan, a me­dia ac­tiv­ist who had been in the town. Other rebel sources said op­po­si­tion fight­ers re­mained in some parts of Mleiha.

“Oc­cu­py­ing Mleiha is the be­gin­ning phase of oc­cu­py­ing the towns in­side the be­sieged Ghouta,” said Ab­dur­rah­man, a spokes­man with the Islam Army, one of the larg­est rebel groups in Da­mas­cus. “He will at­tack piece by piece,” Ab­dur­rah­man added, re­fer­ring to the forces of Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad. The spokes­man goes by his first name only, for se­cu­rity rea­sons.

The Ghouta, which has been un­der gov­ern­ment siege for more than a year, was at­tacked last Au­gust with chem­i­cal weap­ons, kill­ing around 1,400 peo­ple. The two sides in the con­flict blamed each other for the as­sault, with the United States and other Western al­lies pin­ning it on As­sad’s forces.

Mleiha is only the lat­est vic­tory for the re­gime, which since late last year has grad­u­ally re­taken ter­ri­tory from the op­po­si­tion reb­els, some through mil­i­tary force aided by an un­matched air power and oth­ers through truces af­ter reb­els faced months of dwin­dling re­sources and star­va­tion.

State me­dia re­ported that reb­els in Mleiha used it as a base to carry out at­tacks on ci­vil­ians. The town lies next to the pro-gov­ern­ment sub­urb of Jara­mana, which has come un­der reg­u­lar mor­tar at­tack.

The army’s gen­eral com­mand told state me­dia that with Mleiha now un­der gov­ern­ment con­trol, troops have tight­ened the noose around the Ghouta Shar­qia “and es­tab­lished a spring­board from which these ter­ror­ists can be elim­i­nated com­pletely.” The gov­ern­ment rou­tinely de­scribes the op­po­si­tion as ter­ror­ists.

syria - Middle East - Bashar Assad - Damascus


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