BBC News: Syrian forces close in on rebel-held Zabadani

Zabadani, some 45 kilometers (30 miles) northwest of the capital, has been in rebel hands since 2012, when it became one of the first towns to be taken in an uprising against the government that began in March 2011. It was part of a major supply route for weapons sent by Syria to Hezbollah before the 2011 outbreak of the Syrian conflict, which has killed more than 200,000 people.

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Conquest of Aleppo and a second rebel grouping, Ansar al-Sharia, which is dominated by Islamists and Al Qaeda’s local affiliate Al-Nusra Front, began operations against government-held districts of Aleppo this week. Another shell hit Damascus’ famous Dama Rose hotel, previously Le Meridien, near the affluent neighbourhood of Abu Rummaneh.

Some of the hotel’s windows were shattered.

Footage released on Hezbollah’s TV channel al Manar and Syrian state TV showed large plumes of smoke rising from the city on Saturday, and the sounds of aerial bombardment and heavy artillery shelling could be heard.

BEIRUT – The Syrian army and its allied militia launched a major assault on the rebel-held Syrian city of Zabadani on Saturday, Lebanese group Hezbollah’s television station said.

The rebels were retreating, it said.

At least 14 Hezbollah fighters and government forces in addition to 11 opposition fighters were killed in the clashes, the UK-based observatory reported.

On Sunday, the Syrian warplanes reportedly conducted tens of air strikes on the city of Zabadani in the western countryside of Damascus. The Observatory said the resort was subjected to more than 90 airstrikes on Friday alone.

The Syrian army also said on state television their fighters had seized the Sultani district, east of the city, while Hezbollah said it had encircled the northern portion.

Yesterday Islamic militants and rebels launched fresh attacks on government-held neighborhoods in Aleppo, setting off some of the heaviest fighting in months in the contested city that was once Syria’s commercial centre.

In 2013, Sunni Muslim preacher Sheikh Mohammad Said Ramadan al-Buti an outspoken supporter of President Bashar Assad was killed along with at least 41 others when a suicide bomber struck a Damascus mosque.

The Observatory reported Saturday that the explosion killed 31 Nusra Front members like 5 commanders.

“Operations are continuing with dozens of terrorists killed and wounded”, it added.

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The differences in casualty estimates could not be immediately explained as the area had been cordoned off by the extremist group.

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