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Syrian troops retake control of suburbs outside Damascus

By Patrick J. McDonnell and Rima Marrouch, Los Angeles Times –

BEIRUT — Syrian troops reasserted control Monday of rebellious suburbs outside Damascus, retaking some districts amid stiff resistance as the opposition reported dozens killed in fierce fighting.

Armed rebels were falling back to avoid the government’s onslaught, said opposition activists, as regime tanks and troops pulled into rebel bastions near the capital.

“We’ve entered the stage of street war,” said an opposition activist in the Damascus suburb of Duma, who asked not to be named for security reasons. “Today, one side is gaining control, tomorrow the other side. Today, the regime is in control.”

The increase in violence came as diplomats in New York prepared to debate Syria’s future.

On Tuesday, the United Nations is scheduled to consider an Arab League plan, backed by Western nations, that calls for Syrian President Bashar Assad to relinquish power as part of a transition to a unity government and the holding of new elections. The Syrian government has condemned the blueprint as an affront to its sovereignty.

Russia, an ally of Syria and a major arms supplier to the Assad government, has indicated it would veto any U.N. resolution backing regime change, economic sanctions or an arms embargo against Syria.

On Monday, Russia called for all sides in the Syrian conflict to participate in talks in Moscow. But many opposition activists have said the time for discussions with Assad is over.

Syrian troops seeking to impose control on Damascus’ suburbs were reported to have entered the towns of Hammouriya and Kfar Batna, among other areas. According to opposition activists, the troops failed to advance deep into Saqba, which has been in rebel hands.

The United Nations says more than 5,000 people have died in the violence since March. According to the government, more than 2,000 security personnel have been killed.

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