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Tens of Syrian civilians were allegedly killed in a town north of Damascus by fighters belonging to the Lebanese Hezbollah militant group and Syrian government forces, local activists reported on Friday.
The civilians were murdered when Hezbollah militias and Syrian troops stormed Deir Attiyeh in the town of Qalamoun near Damascus, according to Sham, the Syrian opposition activist news network.
The town is in the mountainous Qalamoun area overlooking the highway near the Lebanese border, a region that has emerged as the main battleground between forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and opposition fighters, who are trying to secure a strategic advantage ahead of a peace conference in January.
“Units from the army managed to defeat terrorist groups which had infiltrated Deir Attiya… The operation eliminated many terrorists from different nationalities,” a Syrian army statement said. The government refers to opposition fighters as terrorists.
The statement said soldiers were pursuing the gunmen in nearby areas in an attempt to secure the highway.
The Syrian army recaptured Deir Attiyeh on Thursday, only six days after rebel fighters seized the town.
On Friday last week, hundreds of jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and al-Nusra Front took control of Deir Attiyeh, according to a monitoring group and the opposition. Most of the rebel fighters who had taken up positions in Deir Attiyeh were “crushed,” the security official said, adding that the town had been “cleansed.”
Deir Attiyeh is home to around 10,000 people.