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Syrian Forces Launch Offensive In Damascus

BEIRUT- Syrian government forces launched a series of attacks Wednesday on rebel hideouts on the outskirts of Damascus, while fighting intensified for control of the northern city of Aleppo.

Heavy shelling and helicopter fire targeted areas south-west of the capital, and opposition activists said regime soldiers carried out mass arrests.

The deadliest operation was in the district of Kafr Sousa where at least 24 civilians were killed, according to the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Activists said more that 120 people were killed Wednesday across the country. Most of the deaths were reported in Damascus, Aleppo and the southern province of Daraa where the uprising - now in its 17th month - began.

More than 23,000 people have been killed since March 2011, according to the observatory. The United Nations puts the toll at 17,000.

In Aleppo, activists said 30 people were killed in a raid in the district of al-Shaar, while the northern part of Syria's largest city was attacked by fighter jets and artillery.

"I can tell you our rebels are now controlling more than half of Aleppo and soon they will take over all of it," commander Abu Omar al-Halabi of the rebel Free Syrian Army, who is based in Aleppo, told

dpa by phone.

State television reported that President Bashar al-Assad's soldiers had forced "terrorists" to flee Aleppo.

In eastern Syria, positions held by the rebels were raided after they claimed to have seized parts of the town of Bou Kamal on the Iraq border.

Across the border in northern Lebanon that has seen a spillover of the war, sporadic fighting resumed between al-Assad supporters and opponents. Two people were killed, and 10 wounded.

Jeffrey Feltman, the top UN political affairs officer, told the UN Security Council: "Tensions over domestic and security concerns remain high throughout the country (Lebanon) and are easily exacerbated by developments in Syria."

Two-way arms smuggling across the Syria-Lebanon border increases risks to the two countries, violating a UN resolution banning arms exports, he said.

Meanwhile, a Russian official denied that ethnic Chechens were fighting on the side of the rebels.

"There are no residents of the Chechen republic participating in the conflict in Syria," said Alvi Karimov, a spokesman for the Chechnya government.

"The so-called armed opposition in Syria is generously supported by Western nations with weapons and money, and they are buying off politicians and generals," he said.

With no sign of the fighting abating, the European Union said the humanitarian situation was rapidly deteriorating. Kristalina Georgieva, the EU's humanitarian aid commissioner, said the number of refugees was growing by about 2,000 people a day.

Georgieva told reporters in Brussels that it must be clear to "the government of Syria and the opposition fighters that killing civilians and killing humanitarian workers - being obstacles to delivering aid - is a war crime that is not going to be left unnoticed."

The EU and United States estimate that 2.5 million Syrians are currently in need of aid, including 1.2 million people who have been displaced.

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