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Syrian troops advance in contested Damascus suburb


BEIRUT (AP) - Syrian government troops seized control of most of a contested suburb southeast of the capital of Damascus on Thursday, and were trying to crush remaining resistance on the town's northern outskirts, activists and state media said.

Forces loyal to President Bashar Assad have waged a ferocious offensive for months to try to dislodge rebels from Mleiha, which is located some 10 kilometers (6 miles) from downtown Damascus.

The campaign has included relentless airstrikes and artillery barrages to try to dislodge rebels from the town. Both sides are eager to control Mleiha because of its strategic location near the highway to the capital's airport, as well the opposition stronghold of eastern Ghouta.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government troops backed by fighters from the Lebanese Shiite militant Hezbollah group took over the center of Mleiha on Thursday. It said fighting was still raging in surrounding areas outside the town.

The Syrian state news agency said the military killed a "large number" of terrorists in Mleiha, and is pursuing other gunmen on the town's northern periphery. The government refers to those fighting to topple Assad as terrorists.

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