BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian government forces have pushed rebels battling to topple President Bashar Assad out of a key district on the edge of Damascus, the country's state news agency reported Tuesday.
If confirmed, the regime's latest gain would bolster the defenses of the Syrian capital and further shift the balance of power Assad's way in the civil war.
In the past two months, the Syrian army has moved steadily against rebels in key battleground areas, making strategic advances near the border with Lebanon and considerably lowering the threat to Damascus, the seat of Assad's government.
State-ran SANA new agency said Tuesday that government troops "restored security and stability to some vital areas" in Jobar, a district on the northeastern edge of the capital from where the rebels had been trying to push into Damascus for weeks.
The troops have flushed "terrorists" out of positions they have been using to fire mortars into Damascus' residential areas, the report said but gave no further details.
Opposition activists could not be immediately reached for a statement on Jobar developments.
The Syrian government has consistently denied it's facing a popular uprising since the revolt against Assad's rule erupted in March 2011, insisting that the army is fighting foreign-backed terrorists who want to destroy the country.
More than 70,000 people have been killed in the 2-year-old conflict and millions have fled their homes, seeking shelter in neighboring countries. Even the most modest international efforts to stop the bloodshed have failed.
The fighting has increasingly taken sectarian overtones with members of Syria's Sunni Muslim majority dominating the rebel ranks against Assad's regime, which is mostly made up of Alawites, members of an offshoot sect of Shiite Islam.
Sectarian fighting has also frequently spilled over Syria's volatile border with Lebanon, raising fears of reigniting the neighboring country's civil war that ended in 1990.
Inside Lebanon, clashes between opposing factions have intensified in the past weeks as the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah has increasingly been more prominent and public in fighting alongside Assad's troops for control of the strategic Syrian town of Qusair.
The Lebanese are divided over the conflict next door and factions supporting the opposing sides in Syria's civil war often clash on home territory. In the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, fighting has raged since Sunday, leaving at least six dead and 42 wounded, security officials said.
Gun battles subsided on Tuesday after local leaders called for calm, although there was sporadic sniper activity in several Tripoli areas most affected by fighting, security officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
Lebanon's official news service said Tuesday that unknown gunmen fired at a military convoy patrolling Tripoli, wounding five soldiers and security personnel. The National News Agency did not give more details on the incident that took place ate Monday, but said that army troops continue to patrol the city and have conducted several raids on houses that were suspected hideouts for gunmen.
Associated Press writer Sarah El Deeb contributed to this report.