Damascus: Syrian government troops on Friday ambushed rebels near the capital, Damascus, killing at least 40 opposition fighters, state media reported. The ambush was part of the military’s offensive against rebel strongholds around President Bashar Al Assad’s seat of power.
Also Friday, Kurdish gunmen battled jihadi rebels in a northeastern Syrian town along the border with Iraq, leaving a number of casualties on both sides, activists said.
Such battles have become increasingly common in Syria’s bloodletting, adding another complex layer to the civil war, now in its third year.
The ambush near Damascus came hours after Al Assad’s forces captured the town of Hatitat Al Turkomen south of the city, securing a key highway that links the capital with the Damascus International Airport.
State-run Sana news agency said 40 rebels were killed in the ambush, which took place near the Otaiba area, and that a large arms cache was seized, including anti-tank rockets.
The area is part of a region known as Eastern Ghouta, which was the scene of a horrific chemical weapons attack in August, when several hundred people, including many women and children, were killed.
An unidentified Syrian army officer in the area told state-run Al Ikhbariya TV station that there were foreign fighters among the dead and that the ambush followed an intelligence tip.
The TV broadcast footage showing more than a dozen bodies of men lying on the ground in an open area near a small river, along with scattered automatic rifles and hand grenades. A scroll on the TV read: “Eastern Ghouta is a graveyard of terrorists.”
“It was a highly accurate operation,” the officer told Al Ikhbariya. “We will be moving from one victory to another.”
Another soldier, who was also not identified, said the rebels belonged to the Islam Brigade and an Al Qaida-linked faction, Jabhat Al Nusra or Nusra Front.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group that tracks Syria’s crisis, said at least 20 fighters were killed in the ambush but gave no further details.