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Syrian tanks, troops seek to overrun rebels near Damascus

Syrian troops shot toward a rebel position on Sunday during a government media tour at the edge of Damascus.

Bassem Tellawi/Associated Press

Syrian troops shot toward a rebel position on Sunday during a government media tour at the edge of Damascus.

DAMASCUS — Government troops fired tank shells and artillery in heavy clashes between Syrian forces and rebels Sunday on the edge of Damascus, where the military has been pushing its offensive to retake key districts that have been in opposition hands for months.

The Syrian Army has seized the momentum in the civil war over the past three months, wresting back territory lost to rebel forces and solidifying its hold over contested areas, particularly on the fringes of Damascus. Two of the embattled districts are Jobar and Qaboun, from which rebels frequently launch mortar rounds on the heart of the capital.

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A Syrian military commander, speaking on condition of anonymity, said forces loyal to President Bashar Assad have recaptured 60 percent of Jobar, south of Qaboun. The commander talked to reporters Sunday during a military-escorted tour of Jobar organized by the Information Ministry. His claim could not be independently verified.

Widespread destruction pointed to heavy fighting in the neighborhood. Marble tile factories were destroyed. At least two bodies, apparently those of rebel gunmen, lay on the floor of a bunker described by the official as a ‘‘terrorist’’ hideout.

Jobar is near the road linking Damascus with its eastern suburbs known as Eastern Ghouta. Rebels have been using the road to transport weapons and other supplies to the capital, the seat of Assad’s power.

The commander said the Jobar-Qaboun axis was important to ‘‘cleanse Ghouta from terrorist groups.’’

Assad’s government routinely describes the rebels fighting to overthrow him as terrorists playing out a foreign conspiracy hatched by Israel, the United States and some of its Arab allies in the region, such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Sunday’s tour came as Syria’s main Western-backed opposition group claimed that 200 civilians were trapped in a mosque in Qaboun as fighting raged outside between rebels and Assad’s army. It warned that thousands of civilians in Qaboun could be ‘‘massacred’’ by Assad’s army.

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