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WRAPUP 2-Syria launches air strikes as combat rages in Damascus
November 27, 2012 / 2:15 PM / 5 years ago

WRAPUP 2-Syria launches air strikes as combat rages in Damascus

* Rebels capture several military bases over past 2 weeks

* Syrian jet shot down - video footage

* Russia sent tonnes of cash to Syria in summer - ProPublica

By Oliver Holmes and Erika Solomon

BEIRUT, Nov 27 (Reuters) - Syrian war planes attacked towns in the country’s north and east and killed at least five civilians 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 centre of the capital, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based monitoring group.

The latest fighting followed recent battlefield gains by the rebels in their struggle to topple President Bashar al-Assad although it was far from clear if a strategic breakthrough was likely any time soon.

Syrian state television said that two people were killed and four wounded in a “terrorist suicide car bomb” in Artouz, near Damascus. The Observatory said the explosion was caused by a car bomb next to a military police checkpoint.

Near the Old City, a second car bomb killed one person and blew the legs off another man, according to opposition activist Samir al-Shami. He said it was unclear if the car, a white Toyota, was rigged by Assad loyalists or rebels.

The rebels also shot down a military helicopter on Tuesday, according to video footage posted on YouTube which showed a missile hitting the aircraft.

The Local Coordinating Committee opposition group said the Free Syrian Army had downed a helicopter near the Sheikh Suleiman army base, 30 km (20 miles) northwest of the contested city of Aleppo.

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

A government jet dropped barrel bombs - cylinders packed with explosives and petrol - at the Abu Hilal olive oil press, 2 km (1.2 miles) 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 waiting to press their olives for oil, according to activists, who acknowledged rebel fighters were in the area.

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 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.

However, some anti-aircraft equipment has been seized from captured army bases.

AIR STRIKES

The government also launched air strikes on Deir al-Zor city 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 route for Assad to move troops from the 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 recognised 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 challenge. 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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