The Latest: Rebels fighting for Damascus suburbs kill 20



Associated Press

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) – The Latest on the developments in the Syrian civil war (all times local):

4:40 p.m.

A Syrian rebel faction says it has killed 20 army soldiers in a tunnel blast as the battle for Damascus’s northeastern suburbs shows no signs of letting up.

Wael Olwan, spokesman for the Failaq al-Rahman faction, says the operation took place before dawn Sunday.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group says 16 soldiers are reported missing because of the blast.

A Russian mediated cease-fire announced last month has failed to quell the fighting between the government and rebels on the northeastern edges of Damascus. The Failaq al-Rahman opposition faction says it is not party to the agreement, and the government says it is fighting terrorists.

The government has leaned on its air force and its ground-to-ground missile systems to push rebels out and away from the capital. Several neighborhoods and towns have been destroyed. The opposition does not have an air force.

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1:05 p.m.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu says the Syrian government has increased the size of the territory under its control by 2 1/2 times in just two months.

Shoigu made the comments in an interview with state-owned TV channel Rossiya 24 on Sunday in which he predicted the end of the fight with the Islamic State group.

Shoigu said the fall of the militant stronghold Deir el-Zour on the Euphrates “will say a lot, if not everything, about the end of the battle with” the Islamic State group.

Russia is a close ally of the Syrian regime and has been providing air support for Syrian forces since 2015. Under pressure from Western-backed forces in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State group has seen the territory it holds contract in recent months.

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