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Syrian forces lay siege to rebel-held resort city

DAMASCUS, Syria -- Syrian elite forces backed by Hezbollah fighters besieged a rebel-held mountain resort near the border with Lebanon yesterday under the cover of intense strikes by Syria's air forces, activists and official media outlets reported.

The capture of Zabadani would tighten Hezbollah's grip on Syrian territories bordering Lebanon and strengthen the Syrian government's control over the Beirut-Damascus highway.

Zabadani has been held by rebels since shortly after Syria's crisis began in March 2011. The conflict has killed more than 220,000 people and wounded at least a million, according to the United Nations.

In what appeared to be retaliation for the Zabadani offensive, rebels shelled Damascus, striking several neighborhoods including the central Baghdad Street district. Another shell hit Damascus' famous Dama Rose hotel near the posh neighborhood of Abu Rummaneh. Some of the hotel's windows were shattered.

The Syrian state news agency reported that one person was killed and two wounded.

Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV aired footage from the battlefield showing smoke billowing from much of Zabadani as shells and missiles struck the town.

Al-Manar said Hezbollah's fighters and Syrian troops were attacking from several directions and by afternoon had captured Tal castle, which overlooks wide parts of the town. The rebels were retreating, the station said.

Syrian state TV quoted an unnamed military official as saying that "terrorists suffered large losses." The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the government's air forces conducted 15 airstrikes yesterday morning.

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