Rebels target Damascus, key highway into city

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BEIRUT -- Opposition forces targeted Damascus with mortars, a roadside bomb and a suicide attack yesterday as they pressed ahead in their quest for the seat of President Bashar Assad's power.

Outside the capital, government troops battled rebels for the fifth straight day for control of a key highway. Both sides consider the fight for Damascus the most likely endgame in a nearly two-year civil war that has killed more than 60,000 people.

Yesterday's fighting was the heaviest in Damascus since the first rebel push into the capital in July. The rebels then managed to capture several neighborhoods, but soon were bombed out in a punishing government counteroffensive.

Since then, the rebels have threatened the heavily fortified capital from opposition strongholds around the city. Damascus, however, has been spared the kind of violence and destruction seen in other major urban centers.

Checkpoints on the main artery into the capital have changed hands several times since Wednesday, when the latest rebel campaign for Damascus started. The road is strategically important because it leads to northern Syria and the regime uses it to move troops and supplies.

A mortar that hit a Damascus street near Shabandar Square killed four people and injured several others, a government official told the AP.

State-run SANA news agency said a roadside bomb was detonated at Arnous street in the heart of Damascus, injuring several people. In another part of the city, Rouken al-Deen neighborhood, a suicide bomber blew himself up and was the only one who died, the official news service said.

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