By Weedah Hamzah –
BEIRUT — Syrian government troops have killed dozens of what state television Thursday termed as “terrorists” near the capital Damascus, as the opposition said the death toll in the 21-month conflict has risen to 40,000.
“The Syrian army managed in an operation that lasted two days in the area of Daraya to eliminate a terrorist group and liberate civilians who had been used by terrorists as human shields,” reported the broadcaster, referring to rebels fighting to oust the regime of President Bashar Assad.
Daraya, on the outskirts of Damascus, has been the scene of some of the worst violence in war-torn Syria.
Mortar shells were Thursday fired at a government facility and a private building in the district of Mezze in Damascus, said the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. It gave no casualty figures.
Elsewhere, rebel fighters have taken control of a government artillery base in the area of al-Mayadeen in the eastern province of Deir al-Zour and killed at least six government soldiers, reported opposition activists.
The head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman, said rebels based east of Deir al-Zour, near the Iraqi border, are now controlling a large region.
In the northern province of Aleppo, conflicting reports emerged about an overnight shelling attack on a hospital in the city where rebels and government troops have been battling for more than four months.
Abdel Rahman said a building next to the al-Shifa hospital was hit and that 15 people, including a doctor and 10 rebels, were killed.
However, the Local Coordination Committees, a network of activists operating inside Syria, said the attack had killed 40 people.
An activist inside Aleppo, who preferred not to be named, said the assault by government troops had targeted a building next to the hospital where rebel commanders were meeting and an unknown number of bodies were still buried under the rubble.
Meanwhile, Abdel Rahman said more than 40,000 people had been killed in violence across Syria since a revolt against Assad’s rule erupted in March last year.
“At least 28,026 civilians, 1,379 defectors, 10,150 soldiers and 574 unidentified people, whose bodies were documented in pictures, have been killed in Syria in the past 20 months,” he told the German news agency dpa.
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In Moscow, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said the possible deployment by Germany of defensive “Patriot” missile systems to the Turkish border with Syria could lead to a wider escalation of the conflict.
“The border region there will become even more restive,” the Interfax news agency quoted Ryabyov as saying, adding that the international community should concern itself instead with a political solution.
Turkey on Wednesday asked NATO to deploy Patriot missiles to its border with Syria, a move that could be decided upon as early as next week, according to one diplomat in Brussels who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The United States, Germany and the Netherlands all indicated that they were “ready to respond positively” to the request.
Turkey’s border villages have been hit by artillery fire from Syria.
In Vienna, the International Press Institute said the year 2012 had become the deadliest year for reporters in the past 16 years as dozens of journalists have been killed in Syria.
It listed Syria as the most dangerous country for media workers and said 36 journalists and dozens of media activists have lost their lives this year.