Syria gov't, rebels continue fight for control of Damascus suburbs as war inches towards Assad's seat of power

This image taken from video obtained from Ugarit News, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows smoke and fire billowing from an explosion in Damascus, Syria, Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013.
AP

BEIRUT Syrian troops and rebels clashed again Thursday in the capital Damascus, a day after what activists described as the heaviest fighting in months in President Bashar Assad's seat of power.

The clashes were inching closer to the heart of the city, but still were focused in outlying neighborhoods such as Qaboun, Jobar and Zamalka in the northeast and the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk in the south, according to the activist groups Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Authorities.

The Observatory, based in Britain, said five people, three of them women, were killed in Yarmouk overnight.

On Wednesday, Damascus witnessed the worst fighting since July, when rebels stormed several neighborhoods in the city and seized control of them for days until they were crushed in a government counteroffensive.

Syrian officials said Thursday that hundreds of rebel fighters had been killed in the clashes around the capital.

"At least 268 terrorists were killed in the southern towns of Ghouta, Beit Sahem and Haran Al-Awameed," one official told CBS News' George Baghdadi, adding that government forces had regained control of two areas near Damascus' international airport. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Baghdadi said the sound of shelling and gunfire could still be heard across Damascus on Thursday -- it has become the norm in the sprawling capital -- but to a much lesser extent than during the fighting on Wednesday, which lasted well into the evening.

Damascus residents said Thursday was quieter, but they were still hearing sporadic explosions.

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CBS

State-run television said rebels fired two mortar rounds at a bus station in the Qaboun neighborhood of Damascus, killing six people including three children and a woman. The TV, quoting an unnamed Interior Ministry official, said others were wounded in the attack.

The Observatory reported clashes and shelling between troops and rebels near Qaboun, saying several shells hit the neighborhood. It said the fighting occurred near the highway that links Damascus with the central city of Homs, Syria's third-largest.

In other areas, the Observatory reported heavy clashes between troops and rebels near the northern town of al-Safira, where there have been heavy clashes over the past weeks.

Al-Safira, south of the northern city of Aleppo, is home to military production facilities. The rebels have failed to advance in the area after weeks of intense clashes.