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Syria launches airstrikes as combat rages in Damascus

Nov. 27, 2012 11:35 A.M. (Updated: Nov. 28, 2012 1:12 P.M.)
By Oliver Holmes and Erika Solomon

BEIRUT (Reuters) -- Syrian aircraft attacked towns in the country's north and east and killed at least five people in a strike on an olive oil press as fighting raged in the capital Damascus on Tuesday, opposition activists said.

Rebels battled government forces in the Damascus suburb of Kfar Souseh, on the edge of the center of the capital housing the government of President Bashar Assad, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based monitoring group.

There was also combat in the Baba Amr district of Homs city, an area that was overrun by government troops in February, said the Observatory, as well as fighting in Aleppo, Deir al-Zor, Deraa, Idlib province and Hama province.

A government jet fired barrel bombs -- cylinders packed with explosives and petrol -- at the Abu Hilal olive oil press, 2 km west of Idlib city, activist Tareq Abdelhaq said.

At least five people were killed and five wounded in the attack, the Observatory said. Abdelhaq said at least 20 were killed and 50 wounded.

The victims were civilians, according to activists, who acknowledged rebel fighters were in the area.

Such reports are difficult to verify as the government restricts access to foreign media.

An estimated 40,000 people have been killed in Syria since March last year when protests inspired by the Arab Spring broke out against Assad, whose family has ruled autocratically for four decades. Assad has relied on fighter jets, helicopters and artillery to subdue the revolt, which started peacefully but has become a full-scale civil war.

Rebels have captured at least five army and air force installations in the past 10 days, putting pressure on Assad's forces in the northern provinces of Aleppo and Idlib and the eastern oil region of Deir al-Zor.

The opposition are calling for international military aid, particularly against air attacks, but Western powers who support the uprising are wary of radical Islamist units among the rebels.

Airstrikes

The government also launched air strikes on the eastern city of Deir al-Zor and on the strategic town of Maraat al-Numan in Idlib province on Tuesday.

The rebel takeover of Maarat al-Numan last month effectively cut the main north-south highway, a key route for Assad to move troops from the capital Damascus to Aleppo, Syria's largest city where rebels have taken a foothold.

Most foreign powers have condemned Assad, and Britain, France and Gulf countries have recognized an umbrella opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, as the sole representative of the Syrian people.

But Assad has been able to rely on his allies, especially regional powerhouse Iran, to withstand the international assault. Russia and China have also vetoed three United Nations Security Council resolutions that condemn Assad.

Nonprofit news website ProPublica reported yesterday that Russia sent 240 tonnes of banks notes to Damascus this summer. U.S. and European sanctions include a ban on minting Syrian banknotes.
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