BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian government troops killed at least 75 rebels over 24 hours in battles for control of the capital Damascus, activists said Monday, one of the deadliest single-day tolls for opposition fighters in the 2-year-old conflict.
The death toll, reported by the Britain-based Observatory for Human Rights, included 49 rebels killed in an ambush in Damascus' northeastern suburb of Adra early Sunday. The group said an elite Republican Guard unit attacked the rebels as they were trying to push into the capital, and that the government commander leading the operation also died in the ensuing gunbattle.
The group relies on reports from activists inside Syria. The Syrian state news agency SANA also reported the ambush, without giving a casualty figure.
Damascus and its suburbs have been a key battlefield for over a year, with rebels trying to push into its center from strongholds in the suburbs. Some of President Bashar Assad's most reliable units, including the Republican Guard and the 4th Division commanded by his younger brother Maher, are charged with its defense and have been trying to flush out rebels from its environs.
The Observatory reported that another 17 rebels died in fighting Sunday in clashes in Damascus neighborhoods of Qaboun and Jobar, while another nine were killed in clashes that have raged in the suburbs of Daraya, Harasta and Douma.
More than 93,000 people have died in Syria's conflict, which started in largely peaceful protests against Assad but turned into a civil war. It has taken on an increasingly sectarian tone, pitting mostly Sunni Muslim rebels against a regime dominated by Alawites, an offshoot sect of Shiite Islam.
Assad's troops have in recent weeks seized the momentum in the conflict, attacking rebels in Damascus and also in the north.