DAMASCUS, Nov. 17 (Xinhua) -- The Syrian troops backed by a big firepower unleashed on Sunday a military operation to storm a key town in the northern outskirts of the capital Damascus after fully besieging it, as the rebels rained down Damascus with mortars as part of their reprisal.
The forces have fully besieged the town of Qara in the al- Qalamoun mountains north of Damascus and near the border with Lebanon, Syria's al-Watan newspaper said Sunday.
The road that connects Damascus with the central province of Homs and also leads to Qara has been cut off after several instances of rebel sniper fire on civilian cars.
Local media reports said that Salim Barakat, a rebel commander in Qara, was killed on Sunday during the intense clashes there. Yet, there has been no report about the military advancement in Qara but activists said that the rebels were still determinant to hold their ground despite the heavy artillery shelling by the army.
But al-Watan said Sunday that "the army has rocked the al- Qalamoun mountains with artillery fire and airstrikes that targeted the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front and their military equipment and vehicles."
The importance of al-Qalamoun emanates from its strategic location as it's connected with the Lebanese borders and constitutes a key base for the rebels, as the area is the northern entrance of Damascus.
For the government troops, controlling the area is important to secure the Damascus-Homs international road and also because of its proximity to a number of Syrian military bases.
As the clashes were raging in Qara, huge displacement movement has been reported as residents of Qara have fled to the nearby Syrian towns of Nabek, Deir Attieh and the town of Ersal in northern Lebanon.
The military operation in the northern rim of Damascus came after a series of swift and effective operations in the southern and eastern countryside of Damascus as part of the military tactic to dislodge the rebels from key areas of Damascus, Homs and also the northern province of Aleppo.
In the southern countryside of Damascus, around 400 armed rebels have reportedly turned themselves in to the Syrian troops, who have stormed the town of Babbila Sunday, according to al- Mayadeen TV.
Meanwhile, the opposition activists said that the rebels Free Syrian Army (FSA) detonated on Sunday evening a military base in the Damascus' suburb of Harasta, killing at least 31 government troops. However, the report couldn't be independently verified with the absence of official comments.
Also in Damascus, at least eight people were killed Sunday in separate mortar attacks that targeted several districts. Pro- government activists said 20 mortar shells landed on several districts of Damascus Sunday.
The rebels have opted for indiscriminate mortar attacks against several districts of the capital, particularly the southern and eastern parts as they are close to the rebel-held areas of Jobar, Mlaiha and Douma.