BEIRUT, June 26: Rebel forces and Syrian army units engaged in deadly combat around elite Republican Guard posts in the suburbs of Damascus on Tuesday, as 86 people were killed across the country, a monitoring group said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the death toll consisted of 50 civilians, 32 soldiers and four rebels.

“Violent clashes are taking place around positions of the Republican Guard in Qudsaya and Al-Hama,” eight kilometres from central Damascus, the head of the Observatory, Rami Abdel Rahman, said.

Twenty-eight people were killed in and around the capital, including 14 people in Al-Hama and 11 in Qudsaya during shelling by regime troops.

“This is the first time that the regime uses artillery in fighting so close to the capital,” Abdel Rahman said.

“This development is important because it's the heaviest fighting in the area and close to the heart of the capital.” Abu Omar, a spokesman for activists in the Damascus region, said that “all communication has been cut off in and around Al-Hama and Qudsaya.” He charged that regime forces “stormed the areas with tanks” and also spoke of a “massacre” although he gave no further details.

The official SANA news agency said, meanwhile, that government forces clashed with “armed terrorist groups” in Al-Hama.

“The armed groups attacked citizens and law enforcement forces and blocked the Old Beirut road to use it as a smuggling route for weapons,” SANA said.

“Dozens of terrorists were killed in the clashes,” while others were arrested, SANA said.

The Observatory reported that five people were killed in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor, where several neighbourhoods came under army bombardment, while three were killed elsewhere in the province.

Six civilians and two rebels were killed in the northwest province of Idlib, among them three civilians and one rebel killed in Khan Sabul. In central Hama province, a rebel battalion commander and a defected officer were killed during clashes between the army and rebels.

Elsewhere in central Syria, one person was killed in shelling on the Khaldiyeh neighbourhood of Homs.

Six people died in the southern province of Daraa, known as the cradle of the uprising, including three who were killed during shelling on the town of Kafr al-Shams as the army tried to gain control over the area.

Another civilian was shot dead by troops in the northern province of Aleppo. At least 32 soldiers were also killed on Tuesday in fighting with rebels in various parts of Syria.—AFP

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