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Assad's forces take suburb of capital

| Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013, 9:03 p.m.

BEIRUT — Syrian troops captured a contested suburb of Damascus on Wednesday as the government forged ahead with a punishing military offensive that already has taken four other opposition strongholds south of the capital, state media said.

For more than a year, much of the belt of neighborhoods and towns just south of Damascus has been a rebel bastion and a key arms conduit for the opposition. But government forces — bolstered by fighters from Lebanon's Shiite militant Hezbollah group and Shiite militants from Iraq — have made significant headway there in recent weeks as President Bashar Assad pushes to shore up his hold on the capital and its doorstep.

The recent government advances could give Assad's government a stronger position in proposed peace talks that the United States and Russia have been trying to convene since May.

The town of Hejeira on Wednesday became the latest rebel-held suburb to fall into government hands. State news agency SANA said the army seized control of the town, but was still battling rebels on the outskirts.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights activist group confirmed that government forces were in control of most of Hejeira, but said there were still small pockets of resistance.

The opposition's hold on Hejeira became untenable after the military captured the adjacent town of Sabina in recent days.

While the government has driven the rebels from several of their footholds around the capital, the opposition is still within striking distance of the center of Damascus, and fires barrages of mortar rounds into the city daily.

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