by Staff Writers
Beirut (AFP) Dec 5, 2012
Warplanes pounded suburbs of Damascus on Wednesday as regime forces battled rebels inching ever closer to the capital amid fears that all-out battles may break out there, a monitoring group said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 75 people were killed on Wednesday, including some 21 in and around Damascus.
In recent days, Damascus province has been the focus of clashes following a major operation launched last week by President Bashar al-Assad's forces to prevent rebels from advancing on the capital, analysts say.
Part of the battle for the province is about securing the airport road, which runs southeast of the capital to Syria's main link to the outside world.
"The army has continued to pursue armed groups near the road to the international airport... killing and injuring dozens of terrorists," Al-Watan pro-regime daily said Wednesday.
The government describes insurgents as "terrorists."
Warplanes blasted several towns and villages east and southwest of the city, said the Observatory, which uses a countrywide network of activists, lawyers and doctors as its sources.
The watchdog also reported security force swooped on several areas in the city centre.
More than 41,000 people have been killed as the Syrian conflict approaches the 21-month mark, according to the Observatory.
In the northwest, seven soldiers were killed in "a rebel attack on a checkpoint south of Maaret al-Numan on the Aleppo-Damascus road," the Observatory said.
There was also fighting around the Wadi Deif military base, which has been under siege since rebels took Maaret al-Numan in October, it reported.
Owing to the violence, Hungary closed its embassy and pulled out its staff from the country, the foreign ministry in Budapest said on Wednesday.
And Moroccan news agency MAP reported that Morocco's honorary consul in Aleppo, Mohammed Alaeddin Kiyali, was killed on Tuesday in Aleppo by armed men.
Kiyali, a Syrian aged 51, was leaving a hotel with friends when men in a taxi opened fire at them, killing him and another person and wounding a third.
The latest fighting came a day after NATO approved member state Turkey's request for Patriot missiles to defend its border following a series of warnings to Damascus not to use chemical weapons.
On Monday, US President Barack Obama warned Assad against using chemical weapons, saying there would be "consequences" for such an action.
Russian warships made call in Syrian port: reports
The landing ships Novocherkassk and Saratov docked in the port of Tartus for several hours but their crews did not go ashore, the Interfax and ITAR-TASS news agencies reported.
"They loaded up on fuel and water and had minor repairs. No shore leave was planned for the crew," a source in the naval chief of staff told the Interfax news agency.
ITAR-TASS said the call took place at the end of November and lasted several hours.
The Tartus base is Russia's only remaining foreign military base outside the former Soviet Union and is seen as a major strategic asset for Moscow.
Russia has defiantly refused to cut military cooperation with the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad despite the conflict that according to rights groups has killed 41,000 people.
However Russia prefers to term the facility a "point of material-technical supply" for the navy rather than a base and it is too shallow for large ships to dock on shore.
Russia also retains only a small permanent personnel presence at the facility, with no ships permanently based there and port calls increasingly rare in the last years.
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