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Sat Dec 1, 2012, 02:13 PM


In Damascus, Tense Anticipation of Strongest Push Yet by Rebels

By Anne Barnard
New York Times
December 02, 2012

BEIRUT, Lebanon - While a tense calm prevailed Saturday in downtown Damascus, the rumbling explosions in the distance, the screech of warplanes overhead and the proliferating security checkpoints in the streets gave the impression that rebels were making their strongest push toward the Syrian capital since the government repelled an offensive there in July, residents and a Western ambassador said.

Syrian rebels and government forces clashed along the Damascus airport road and throughout the capital's eastern and southern suburbs on Saturday for a third day, and there were reports that President Bashar al-Assad was readying his most loyal and effective divisions to defend the city, the heart of his power.

Military analysts warned that it was impossible to know whether a decisive battle for Damascus was beginning, especially after the government apparently blocked access to the Internet for 53 hours, limiting the flow of information to the outside world. But they said that a government fight to defend its core in the capital could be the fiercest and most destructive phase yet of the 20-month conflict.

"We're waiting for the big battle to begin," said Emile Hokayem, an analyst based in Bahrain for the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

More: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/02/world/middleeast/in-damascus-tense-anticipation-of-strongest-push-yet-by-rebels.html

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