Activists: 23 rebels killed near Damascus

A Syrian soldier investigates the scene of a bomb blast outside a Damascus hotel, Aug. 15, 2012. AP

(AP) BEIRUT - Government forces stormed a rebel-held town outside Damascus Tuesday after days of fierce fighting, killing dozens of people including at least 23 fighters, according to activist groups and a rebel spokesman.

In Aleppo, a Japanese TV reporter was killed Monday while covering the fighting in Syria's largest city. She was the first foreign journalist to die in the city since clashes between rebels and regime forces erupted there almost a month ago.

In neighboring Lebanon, where the civil war in Syria has been spilling across the border, security officials said clashes between supporters and opponents of President Bashar Assad have left two dead and as many as 45 wounded in some of the most serious fighting in Lebanon in several months. The army said the injured include nine Lebanese soldiers.

Damascus and its suburbs have witnessed a dramatic spike in fighting over the past month. And regime forces were further stretched when a major battle for control of the northern city of Aleppo erupted around the end of July. Before that, the fighting had been concentrated outside the big cities during the 17-month-old uprising.

It has proved difficult for Assad's forces to quell the rebel challenge in the big cities, a sign that the regime's grip on power over the country is loosening.

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The Local Coordination Committees activist group and a rebel spokesman said regime troops entered the opposition-held town of Moadamiyeh at dawn from four points, raiding homes in search of anti-Assad fighters. The rebel spokesman, who asked to be identified by his first name only, Ahmed, said three men in their late 20s and early 30s were shot dead execution style in the town soon after its fell to regime forces.

He also said 23 fighters from the Free Syrian Army rebel group were killed when government forces stormed the town at dawn.

Later, activists said dozens of bodies were found dumped in a building's shelter in the town. The LCC said they appear to have been killed execution style. But Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said it was not clear whether they were people who had been killed in the shelling, or whether they had been shot dead.

The reports could not be independently verified.

Moadamiyeh, west of the capital Damascus, had been under siege for more than two weeks. Its capture followed days of intense fighting and shelling by government troops.

Japan's Foreign Ministry confirmed overnight that veteran Japanese war correspondent Mika Yamamoto was killed in Aleppo. She worked for The Japan Press, an independent TV news provider that specializes in conflict zone coverage.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Masaru Sato said the 45-year-old was hit by gunfire while she and a colleague were traveling with rebels from the Free Syrian Army, who are fighting to topple the Assad regime.

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