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Syrian troops beat rebels in Damascus suburb

BEIRUT -- Syrian government troops seized control Thursday of most of a contested suburb southeast of the capital from rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar Assad. The troops were trying to crush remaining resistance on the town's northern outskirts, activists and state media said.

Forces loyal to Assad have waged a ferocious offensive for months to try to dislodge rebels from Mleiha, located about 6 miles from downtown Damascus.

Syrian officials told CBS News' George Baghdadi the army had gained full control of Mleiha, stormed several rebel-held suburbs and choked off supplies to others in the east and south.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government troops backed by fighters from the Lebanese Shiite militant Hezbollah had taken the center of Mleiha, but were still fighting in surrounding areas.

The army carried out several air raids and shelled suspected rebel positions in advance of a ground incursion into the town, the officials told Baghdadi. Both sides have been keen to control Mleiha because of its strategic location near the highway to the capital's airport, as well the opposition stronghold of eastern Ghouta.

"With al-Mleiha under control, the Syrian Army has effectively closedthe noose on the remaining pockets of terrorists in the Eastern Ghouta, and established a springboard from which these terrorists can be eliminated completely," claimed the General Command of the Army and Armed Forces in a statement carried by Syrian media.

The Syrian state news agency said the military killed a "large number" of terrorists in Mleiha. The government refers to those fighting to topple Assad as terrorists.

Baghdadi said the decision to launch an offensive for Mleiha was apparently made after members of the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front and an Islamic extremist rebel coalition known as the Islamic Front rejected a truce offer by the regime and held members of a local reconciliation committee captive for almost a month to scuttle any deal.

Baghdadi's sources said State TV would air video of Syrian soldiers deployed in the Mleiha area.

The government, which appeared to be on the back foot a few months ago in the war, seemed in recent weeks to have regained some momentum as the various rebel factions battle each other over territory, resources and ideology.

The thump and pop of government artillery and rocket launchers pounding the capital's rebel-held suburbs echoed throughout Damascus as military jets patrolled the skies above.

Baghdadi said tentative truces have been reached in a handful of areas. The Syrian government has billed them as models as it touts efforts for a "national reconciliation," but most of the larger rebel groups dismiss any talks with the regime as capitulation, insisting no peace process can begin with Assad in power.

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