Clashes rock Damascus outskirts after key rebel gain
BEIRUT - The outskirts of the Syrian capital were rocked by clashes early on Saturday a day after rebels seized a key regime airbase in the north, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The Britain-based watchdog said two children and two men were killed when Mleha just southeast of Damascus was bombarded, and that two rebels battling forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad were also killed there.
"Regime forces used warplanes to bombard the area between Mleha and Jaramana on Saturday a day after rebels assaulted an air force security building there," said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.
Mleha's outskirts are next to Jaramana, a regime-held majority Christian and Druze suburb, some of whose residents have struggled to remain neutral in the country's spiralling conflict.
"Many people from Jaramana were injured in the air raid on the outskirts," a resident of the district who identified herself as Mary said by Internet.
"On the streets and on Facebook pages, even people who have long defended the regime are saying they've had enough."
Saturday's violence came a day after at least 86 people were killed across Syria, said the Observatory, which relies on a network of activists and medics on the ground to compile its reports.
It gave a preliminary toll of at least 22 people were killed nationwide on Saturday.
Among Friday's casualties were nine rebels, eight soldiers and two regime militiamen killed when insurgents overran the key Taftanaz air base in northwestern Syria, in one of their most important military gains to date.
Capturing Taftanaz, from which regime forces launched deadly helicopter gunship sorties, eases the pressure on rebels who already control vast swathes of Syria's north and east.
Government forces managed to evacuate most of the 60 helicopters deployed there, leaving behind 20 that are no longer serviceable, the Observatory said.
The United Nations says that more than 60,000 people have died in the Syria conflict which began in mid-March 2011 with peaceful protests that quickly erupted into deadly violence in the wake of a harsh regime crackdown.