The Independent

January 30, 2012

The embattled Syrian regime moved thousands of its troops and tanks into suburbs on the edge of Damascus early yesterday in an effort to reclaim outlying districts from rebels, as fierce battles neared the capital for the first time.

The military offensive comes a day after the Arab League said it was suspending its controversial observer mission after its presence failed to stem the bloodshed in a nearly 11-month uprising that the United Nations estimates has cost at least 5,400 lives.

More than 50 tanks and personnel carriers, packed with 2,000 soldiers, rolled into the suburbs at dawn as the Assad regime tried to flush out rebels who have holed up in Sunni areas and set up checkpoints in the past week within striking district of its seat of power. At least 19 people were killed, and scores of residents were captured on video footage fleeing for Damascus as the areas came under heavy fire.

In addition to the assault on the Damascus suburbs of Arbeen, Jisreen, Saqba and Kfar Batna, there were also reports of heavy bombardments in the mountain town of Rankous, 20 miles north of the capital, where more than 30 people have been killed in recent days. Residents say thousands of troops have besieged the town since the middle of last week, trying to rout army defectors.

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