BEIRUT ( AP) — Syrian troops clashed with army defectors in several areas near the capital Damascus in the first significant battles there since President Bashar Assad’s forces regained control of the suburbs weeks ago, activists said today.

The clashes highlight the shifting nature of the Syrian conflict, with rebel fighters igniting new fronts soon after the regime turns its attention elsewhere.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the clash in Tal, on the outskirts of the capital, lasted until the early hours of today. The Observatory and the Local Coordination Committees said there were also clashes in other areas near Damascus, including Dumair and Qatana on Thursday night.

Both groups also reported clashes between troops and army defectors known as the Free Syrian Army in the eastern oil-rich province of Deir el-Zour that borders Iraq.

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