The Freeland File
Aerospace & Defense
Global Market Data
Lucy P. Marcus
The Great Debate
Macro & Markets
Lipper Awards 2012
Personal Finance Video
Our best photos from the last 24 hours. Slideshow
Download our Wider Image iPad app
Images of October
Obama urges restraint in tense Asian disputes
Truce mediator Egypt sees imminent end to Gaza conflict
Testosterone, Viagra not a winning ED combination
19 Nov 2012
Broadwell hires Washington PR firm to deal with Petraeus scandal
19 Nov 2012
Yahoo shares reach 18-month high as investors warm to new CEO
19 Nov 2012
Top Hamas commander killed in Israeli airstrike
Israel hammers Hamas in Gaza offensive
Egypt PM to visit Gaza in support of Hamas against Israel
Our day's top images, in-depth photo essays and offbeat slices of life. See the best of Reuters photography. See more
Best of the AMAs
Highlights from the American Music Awards. Slideshow
Scenes from Gaza and Israel. Slideshow
Assad troops fight to oust rebels from Damascus
Britain recognizes Syrian opposition coalition
Analysis & Opinion
Fighting threats in the age of austerity
Street fighting in Harem, Syria
Middle East Turmoil »
Rebels celebrate checkpoint takeover in Aleppo
Thu, Nov 15 2012
1 of 18. Free Syrian Army fighters hold up their weapons in the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain, as seen from the Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar, Sanliurfa province November 14, 2012.
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis
Tue Nov 20, 2012 10:50am EST
AMMAN (Reuters) - Syrian government troops backed by tanks battled to oust rebel forces from an opposition stronghold in a Damascus suburb on Tuesday in the heaviest fighting in the capital for months.
In action in the country's north, rebel fighters stormed an air defense base that President Bashar al-Assad's military had used to bombard areas near the Turkish border.
On the international front, the Turkish foreign minister said NATO states had agreed to supply Turkey with a Patriot missile system to defend against Syrian cross-border shelling.
Although the deployment would be for defensive purposes only, it nonetheless marked a hardening in the foreign opposition to Assad.
The rebels also received a diplomatic lift with Britain officially recognizing the opposition Syrian National Coalition, set up this month to boost their chances of securing foreign aid and arms, as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.
It was the ninth country to do so following France, Turkey and the Gulf Arab states.
After months of slow progress marked by poor organization and supply problems, the rebels have captured several army positions in outlying regions in the last week, including a Special Forces base near Aleppo, Syria's commercial hub.
They are also trying to take the 20-month-old revolt to the heart of Damascus, Assad's seat of power, and have dubbed this week "March to Damascus Week".
Elite Republican Guard troops backed by tanks attacked the rebel stronghold of Daraya on the city's southwestern edge and were met by fierce resistance from rebels, who hung on to their positions despite days of aerial bombardment, opposition sources said.
Twelve people were killed on Monday in Daraya, mostly by aerial bombing preparing for the ground offensive, activists said. Thousands of residents had fled to nearby suburbs.
A Western diplomat following the fighting said Assad had to show he could repel the rebel challenge to Damascus.
"He has to show that letting the bases fall in and round Damascus is only temporary while he begins to consolidate resources and personnel and deals with the struggles in the east," the diplomat said.
Also on Tuesday, two mortar rounds hit the Information Ministry building in Damascus, causing damage but no casualties, state television said. It blamed "terrorists" for the attack, the usual government term for anti-Assad forces.
On Monday, rebels seized the headquarters of an army battalion near the southern gate of Damascus, the nearest military base to the capital reported to have fallen to opposition fighters.
In the north, opposition sources said rebel fighters had captured sections an air defense base at Sheikh Suleiman, 18 km (11 miles) from the Turkish border and 30 km (20 miles) northwest of Aleppo.
"The fighters have taken three artillery pieces and have entered most of the base. Fighter jets are flying over the area to try and force them out," said Abu Mujahed al-Halabi, an activist with the opposition Sham News Network.
A rebel source said the fighters seized large stocks of explosives and would withdraw to avoid retaliatory air strikes.
"Assad's forces use the base to shell many villages and towns in the countryside. It is now neutralized," the source said.
MISSILES ON THE BORDER
In Ankara, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said NATO states had agreed to supply Turkey with an advanced Patriot missile system to defend against Syrian attacks. Talks on its deployment are in the final stage, he said.
In recent months artillery and mortar fire from Syria has landed inside Turkey, increasing concern that the anti-Assad uprising could turn into a regional conflagration.
Turkey, Gulf Arab states and Western powers have all called for Assad - whose Alawite family have ruled Sunni Muslim-majority Syria in autocratic fashion for four decades - to relinquish power. Assad counts on the support of long-time ally Russia and Shi'ite Iran.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Monday that any missile deployment would be a defensive measure and not to enforce a no-fly zone over Syria.
Although the rebels have taken large swathes of land, they are almost defenseless against the government's air force. They have called for an internationally enforced no-fly zone, a measure that helped Libyan rebels overthrow dictator Muammar Gaddafi last year.
Despite strong censure of Assad, Western powers have shied away from direct military involvement.
But the political campaign against Assad took a step forward on Tuesday when British Foreign Secretary William Hague announced that Britain had decided to recognize the new coalition of Syrian revolutionary and opposition forces as the people's sole legitimate representative.
(Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis in Amman; Oliver Holmes, Erika Solomon and Dominic Evans in Beirut; Mohammed Abbas in London, Gulsen Solaker and Ece Toksabay; Writing by Angus MacSwan)
(This story was corrected to remove reference to Italy giving diplomatic recognition to the Syrian opposition. It has recognised the group as "legitimate representatives".)
Middle East Turmoil
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Back to top
New York Legal
Support & Contact
Connect with Reuters
Our Flagship financial information platform incorporating Reuters Insider
An ultra-low latency infrastructure for electronic trading and data distribution
A connected approach to governance, risk and compliance
Our next generation legal research platform
Our global tax workstation
About Thomson Reuters
Thomson Reuters is the world's largest international multimedia news agency, providing investing news, world news, business news, technology news, headline news, small business news, news alerts, personal finance, stock market, and mutual funds information available on Reuters.com, video, mobile, and interactive television platforms. Thomson Reuters journalists are subject to an Editorial Handbook which requires fair presentation and disclosure of relevant interests.
NYSE and AMEX quotes delayed by at least 20 minutes. Nasdaq delayed by at least 15 minutes. For a complete list of exchanges and delays, please click here.