Syrian military claims more ground in attack

DAMASCUS — Syrian troops killed at least 40 opposition fighters in an ambush Friday near Damascus, the government said, leaving their bloodied bodies strewn on rocks near a dried-out lake along with scattered rifles and ammunition.

President Bashar Assad’s forces backed by Lebanese Hezbollah gunmen also seized control of a rebel ammunition supply route on a highway linking the capital to its eastern suburbs — part of a blistering government offensive to bolster its position amid an international push for peace talks.

Assad’s forces have been gaining ground in rebel-held areas around the capital and have made progress against outgunned and fragmented fighters in several areas.


On Friday, the state-run news agency SANA said 40 rebels died in the ambush near Otaiba, adding that soldiers seized a large arms cache, including anti-tank rockets.

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The area is part of a region known as Eastern Ghouta, which was the scene of a chemical weapons attack in August.

State-run Al-Ikhbariya TV station broadcast footage showing more than a dozen bodies near Otaiba lake, some wearing flak jackets strapped with ammunition. ‘‘Eastern Ghouta is a graveyard of terrorists,’’ read a scroll on the broadcast.

An unidentified Syrian army officer told Al-Ikhbariya that there were foreign fighters among the dead and that the ambush followed an intelligence tip. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 24 fighters, some of them foreign, were killed in the ambush.

The offensive coincides with an international push for a peace conference to be held in Geneva.