Suicide bombs hit Syrian troops north of Damascus

Suicide bombs hit Syrian troops north of Damascus

Government forces pushing to disrupt opposition supply lines reportedly come under attack from al-Qaeda-linked rebel factions

Illustrative photo of al-Qaeda-linked fighters after an attack on a Syrian army convoy in March, 2013. (screen capture: YouTube)
Illustrative photo of al-Qaeda-linked fighters after an attack on a Syrian army convoy in March, 2013. (screen capture: YouTube)

BEIRUT — Suicide bombers targeted Syrian troops and a hospital Wednesday in the rugged Qalamoun hills north of Damascus, where rebels are struggling to reverse government gains that threaten to cut one of their main supply lines, said activists and officials.

There was no immediate word on casualties from the attacks in Nabak and Deir Attiyeh, part of a string of communities lying along a route used by rebels to bring supplies from nearby Lebanon to opposition-held enclaves outside the capital and in the central city of Homs.

A suicide car bomber targeted a checkpoint manned by Syrian soldiers while another blew up near a security headquarters, both on the edge of the town of Nabak, said Rami Abdurrahman from the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and another activist based near the town.

Syrian television reported that, in another incident, two Saudi citizens tried to blow up the hospital of Deir Attiyeh but they were turned back by army forces. Abdurrahman and the activists confirmed the attack but had no further details.

Abdurrahman said the rebels belonged to al-Qaeda linked Nusra Front and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. He obtains his information from a network of activists on the ground.

Fighting has been going on in the region since last week, when forces loyal to the government of President Bashar Assad started an offensive against towns overlooking rebel supply lines. A government victory would tighten the siege of rebel-held enclaves near Damascus, where fighters are losing ground to the army and residents suffer from chronic food shortages.

On Tuesday, Syrian forces seized the town of Qara from rebels, and activists say their next target is likely to be the nearby larger town of Yabroud, a major smuggling hub for rebels.

Assad’s forces appear to be emboldened by a string of battlefield successes, and activists say they are backed by fighters of the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah, which has backed Syrian troops in key fights.

As the fighting continues, thousands of refugees are pouring into neighboring Lebanon.

The UN refugee agency said Wednesday that 2,200 Syrian families have fled into the eastern Lebanese town of Arsal over the past five days, when the Qalamoun battles began. UNHCR official Lisa Abou Khaled said the influx was one of the largest this year.

Some 1.4 million Syrians, including 800,000 registered refugees, have fled to Lebanon since Syria’s conflict broke out in March 2011.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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