BEIRUT - Syrian rebels killed 21 elite Republican Guards on Thursday in an ambush on an army minibus in a suburb northwest of Damascus, opposition activists said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights quoted a medical source and witnesses as saying the troops had been killed in Qudsayya, which has been shelled by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad after rebels moved into the area.

The Republican Guards are specifically entrusted with defending the capital, and the army stepped up operations in Qudsayya on Wednesday morning, Damascus residents said. They reported hearing loud explosions and said that a large military convoy was heading to the area.

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