Syrian troops have captured most of a strategic Damascus suburb used by rebels as a base to threaten key regime facilities in the capital, a government official said Saturday.
The announcement that regime forces had taken Daraya came a day after anti-government activists said rebels and Islamic militants seeking to topple President Bashar Assad took full control of Taftanaz air base in the northwest. That dealt a significant blow to Assad's military, with helicopters, tanks and multiple rocket launchers seized.
- Syrian rebels: We're on our way to Assad
- UN urged to refer Syria to war crimes court
- Iran backs Assad peace initiative for Syria
The back-to-back declarations highlight the see-saw nature of the conflict in Syria, where one side's victories in one area are often followed by reverses in another.
"The army is battling some small pockets (of rebels) and (Daraya) will be safe within few days," the official told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
Damascus in ruins (Photo: AFP)
Syrian troops have been battling for weeks to regain Daraya from the hands of anti-government fighters. The suburb, just south of Damascus, is on the edge of the strategic military air base of Mazzeh in a western neighborhood of the capital.
It also borders the Kfar Sousseh neighborhood that is home to the government headquarters, the General Security intelligence agency head office and the Interior Ministry, which was the target of a recent suicide attack that wounded the interior minister.
The suburb is also less than 10 km from the People's Palace – one of three palaces in the capital used by Assad.
Homs in ruins (Photo: Reuters)
Syria's pro-government media had reported that thousands of rebel fighters from the extremist Jabhat al-Nusra group have holed up in Daraya in preparation to storm Damascus.
Jabhat al-Nusra, which has been branded a terrorist organization by the US and which Washington claims is affiliated with al-Qaeda, has been among the most effective fighting force on the rebel side in the battle to oust Assad.
Syrian official statements regularly play up the role of Islamist extremists within the rebel movement.
Different shades of pressure
The violence came a day after a meeting on Syria's conflict in Geneva in which international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said that he doesn't expect a political solution to emerge anytime soon.
In Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Saturday it is still strongly against any foreign interference in the war-torn country's affairs.
Also Saturday, Qatar reiterated its proposals to send an Arab peacekeeping force to Syria. Qatar's Prime Minister Hamad Bin Jassem Al Thani told Al-Jazeera TV that Arabs should think seriously about sending troops to maintain security in Syria if diplomacy fails to resolve the crisis.
Hamad said that such a move would not constitute military intervention and would not be intended to help one side against the other, rather to help "stop the bloodbath in Syria."
The Qatari prime minister, who is one of Assad's harshest critics, said that any solution that does not include a change in who holds power will not stop the bloodbath in Syria. "We support the direction of the opposition and the Syrian people to liberate themselves from this regime," he said, meaning that Assad must step down.
The issue of whether Assad should step down is one of the key obstacles to any peace settlement. The rebels oppose any transition that does not remove him from power, while the regime would oppose any transition that does.
- Receive Ynetnews
updates directly to your desktop