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Rebels, troops battle for key Damascus highway

By The Associated Press

This article was published February 10, 2013 at 11:42 a.m.

— Opposition forces targeted Damascus with mortars, a roadside bomb and a suicide attack on Sunday as they pressed ahead in their quest for the seat of President Bashar Assad’s power.

Outside the capital, government troops battled rebels for the fifth straight day for control of a key highway. Both sides consider the fight for Damascus the most likely endgame in a nearly two-year-old civil war that has already killed more than 60,000 people.

Sunday’s fighting was the heaviest in Damascus since the first rebel push into the capital in July. The rebels then managed to capture several neighborhoods, but were soon bombed out during a punishing government counteroffensive.

Since then, the rebels have threatened the heavily fortified capital from opposition strongholds around the city. Damascus, however, has been spared the kind of violence and destruction that has been seen in other major urban centers during the conflict.

Checkpoints on the main artery into the capital have changed hands several times since Wednesday when the latest rebel campaign for Damascus started. The road is strategically important because it leads to northern Syria and the regime uses it to move troops and supplies. Rebels cut the road off from Damascus with burning tires on Friday after seizing checkpoints from regime troops in fighting that brought the civil war within a mile of the heart of the capital.

A rebel fighter told The Associated Press that opposition forces on Sunday overran another roadblock, al-Adnan checkpoint in Jobar, northeast of Damascus. He spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

But the Britain-based Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-regime activist group, said that while the fight for the highway continues, government troops regained control of the area on Sunday after using fighter jets to bomb rebel positions the day before.

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