US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta swears in troops at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, on December 14, 2012
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta swears in troops during his visit to Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, on December 14, 2012. Moscow has backtracked on comments made by a top diplomat admitting that Syrian rebels might defeat its long-time ally Damascus as Washington ordered 400 troops to near the border with Turkey. © Susan Walsh - AFP
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta swears in troops at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, on December 14, 2012
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AFP
Last updated: December 23, 2012

Russia wavers as US deploys troops near Syria border

Syrian forces assaulted rebel areas southwest of Damascus and insurgents captured large parts of a military school in the north as the nation's conflict entered its 22nd month Saturday, activists said.

Syrian warplanes bombarded the town of Moadamiyat al-Sham, southwest of Damascus, while the army deployed reinforcements and attempted to storm the rebel-held nearly town of Daraya, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

In Daraya, rebels held out against fierce army attempts to break in on several fronts, the Britain-based Observatory said.

"This is the 28th day the criminal (President Bashar al-) Assad's forces have attempted to break into the town," read a statement from activists in Daraya.

Clashes also erupted in the Palestinian camp of Yarmuk in the south of the capital between rebels and troops backed by pro-regime Palestinian fighters, the Observatory reported.

The outskirts of Damascus have been at the heart of fighting this month as the regime launches operations to reclaim territory within eight kilometres (five miles) of the city.

In northern Damascus, the army foiled an attempted car bomb attack, state television said.

"Army forces deactivated a car bomb laden with 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds) of explosives in Barzeh," the broadcaster said.

Meanwhile, the rebels came close to scoring a significant victory in the northern province of Aleppo -- a fierce battleground for several months -- as they captured large parts of an infantry academy in Muslimiyeh, north of the embattled city of Aleppo, said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Observatory.

"This is one of the most important military academies in all of Syria," he added, noting that rebels have seized control of some two thirds of the academy complex.

At least 24 rebel fighters, including Abu Furat, a top rebel commander in the province of Aleppo, and 20 regime troops were killed in the battle for the academy on Saturday.

The Observatory said a total of 103 people were killed across Syria on Saturday, among them 27 civilians, 46 rebels and 30 soldiers.

At least 10 of the civilians were killed when warplanes bombarded the rebel-held town of Rastan in the central province of Homs, it said.

A total of more than 43,000 people have been killed since the uprising against Assad's rule erupted in March 2011, according to the Observatory which relies on a network of activists and medics on the ground.

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