Syrian army recaptures two Damascus suburbs from rebels

Opposition activists said at least 70 people have been killed

Syrian army troops and Shi'ite militia fighters loyal to President Bashar al-Assad captured two southern suburbs of Damascus on Friday, killing at least 70 people, opposition activists said.

The fighters, including some from the Lebanese Shi'ite movement Hezbollah and Iraqi Shi'ites backed by Syrian army tanks, searched al-Thiabiya and Husseiniya, a Palestinian refugee camp, for pockets of resistance after overrunning them, the sources said.

The capture of the two districts, located between the two main highways leading to Jordan, strengthens Assad's hold on major supply lines and puts pressure on rebel brigades under siege for months in areas adjacent to the centre of Damascus.

Buoyed by opposition divisions and the receding prospect of US military strikes, Assad has tried to tighten his grip on areas in the country's centre and along the coast and the north-south highways, as well as the capital and its environs - a major area of operations for his foreign Shi'ite allies.

The two suburbs are near Sayida Zainab, a district where a Shi'ite shrine is located and which Iran-backed Hezbollah and Iraqi fighters have used as a base to deploy in southern Damascus. Assad's Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.

Speaking from the south of the capital, activist Rami al-Sayyed said 20 out of the 70 people killed on the rebel side were hit by sniper fire as they tried to flee al-Thiabiya through farmland. A rebel commander said 45 Shi'ite militiamen were killed in the last 24 hours.

Sayyed said three brigades - Ahfad al-Rasoul and al-Umma and Aknaf al-Bayt al-Maqdesi, which is mainly comprised of Palestinian refugees - had repeatedly asked for back-up from better equipped rebels brigades in eastern Damascus.

“They were let down. The loss of these districts is largely due to lack of coordination and the reluctance to assist the defenders,” Sayyed said.

Al-Thiabiya and Husseiniya have been hit by multiple rocket launchers for the past week from an army camp situated on the high ground near the area, providing cover for Shi'ite fighters who did most of the street fighting, opposition sources said.

In a last-ditch effort to save the two districts, rebels attacked loyalist forces in Sayida Zainab with mortar bombs and automatic weapons on Thursday, but the counter-offensive failed.

The Iraqi and Lebanese militia backed by Syrian army tanks and fighter jets overran Sheikh Omar, another southern suburb near Sayida Zainab, earlier this week, putting pressure on several Islamist rebel brigades trying to hold onto strategic outskirts of the capital.

The 2-1/2-year war has killed more than 100,000 people and forced millions from their homes into sprawling refugee camps in neighbouring countries.

It began with peaceful demonstrations against four decades of Assad family rule. With Shi'ite Iran and Sunni heavyweight Saudi Arabia backing opposing sides in the conflict and Russia blocking Western efforts to push Assad aside, there is little sign of an end to the bloodshed.

Regional security officials say fighters from Iraq, Iran, Yemen and Hezbollah are in Syria supporting Assad, as well as foreign fighters and Syrian expatriates on the rebel side.

The total number of foreign fighters on both sides runs in the tens of thousands, they say.

Reuters

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
film
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
News
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m