Syria says more than 40 rebels killed east of Damascus
ANTAKYA, Turkey — Syrian government forces killed more than 40 rebels in an ambush in a strategic region east of Damascus, the official news agency said Friday, as fierce clashes were reported outside the capital.
Also, state-run television said Abu Mohammed Jolani, the leader of Al Nusra Front, or Jabhat al Nusra, a group of Islamist fighters, was killed in Latakia province. The report could not be confirmed.
Meanwhile, Doctors Without Borders, an international aid group, reported that more than 100,000 civilians had fled in recent weeks from the town of Safira, southeast of the battleground city of Aleppo, amid heavy bombardment and fighting in the area.
The group also reported at least 76 killed and more than 450 wounded in “fighting, shelling and aerial attacks” this month in Safira, which is close to a military complex that is reported to contain a major chemical weapons facility.
Humanitarian workers say the number of displaced people in rebel-controlled zones of northern Syria has been increasing rapidly. Many civilians have inadequate shelter and access to medical care as winter approaches, they say.
The Syrian state-run news agency said Friday that at least 41 “terrorists,” the government’s term for armed rebels, were killed and at least 10 were wounded in the ambush near rural Otaiba, a gateway to the strategic eastern Ghouta area outside the capital. The government media published photos of what appeared to be dead fighters, some wearing military fatigues and camouflage uniforms.
A rebel commander operating in the area who goes by the nickname Abu Yasser said by telephone that only seven fighters were confirmed killed.
“It is natural that the regime would exaggerate the numbers,” the commander said.
Each side in the conflict accused the other of inflating casualty numbers inflicted on opposing forces and exaggerating battlefield gains.
For months, Syrian troops have been trying to push rebels back from the Damascus suburbs, from where insurgents often launch mortar attacks on the city.
On Thursday, the government reported that the army had recaptured the town of Hatitat al-Turkomen, south of the city, helping to secure the perilous road from the capital to the international airport.
The Associated Press reported Friday that hundreds of civilians were trapped in the largely Christian town of Sadad, north of the capital, as Al Qaeda-linked rebels and government forces clashed there for the fifth consecutive day.
“The situation is dire and we are worried about a massacre inside,” Archbishop Silwanos Al-Nemeh told the AP.
Elsewhere near the capital, a car bomb exploded near a mosque in the village of Wadi Barada, leaving dozens dead and injured, though neither government nor opposition accounts provided precise casualty numbers.
The official government news agency quoted a witness as saying the car detonated before the end of Friday prayers, causing the collapse of the mosque’s two entrances. The government blamed “terrorists,” while the opposition said the government was behind the attack.
Special correspondent Nabih Bulos contributed to this report.
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