Syrian government forces killed at least five civilians on Sunday in an attack to take back large suburbs of the capital Damascus that had fallen under rebel control, activists said.Around 2,000 soldiers in buses and armored personnel carriers, along with at least 50 tanks and armored vehicles moved at dawn into the eastern Ghouta area on the edge of Damascus to reinforce troops surrounding the suburbs of Saqba, Hammouriya and Kfar Batnba, they said.Additional reports of violence emanated from the region near the Labanese border on Sunday. Rankous, a mountain town of 25,000 people, 30 kms (19 miles) north of Damascus, has been under tank bombardment since Wednesday, when it was besieged by several thousand troops led by the elite Fourth Division, under the command of President Bashar Assad's brother Maher, activists and residents said.They stated that Syrian government forces had killed at least 33 people in the rebel town in the last few days in an attack to dislodge army defectors and insurgents.A resident of the nearby town of Sednaya, who did not want to be identified, said the 33 were killed since Wednesday and that no casualty figures were yet available for Sunday."We have managed to get through to people there who say the bombardment has brought down at least 10 buildings," he said, adding that tens of soldiers have defected and went in to help defend the town.
"A tented army camp has been set up near the entrance of Rankous. Most of the town's residents have fled to nearby villages," he added. There was no immediate comment from the Syrian authorities.It was the second major attack on Rankous since November when it was stormed by troops after a demonstration demanding Assad's removal was broadcast on the Arab news channel Al-Jazeera, activists said.The violence came as as the Arab League said on Saturday it suspended its mission due to rising violence in Syria, which is trying to crush a 10-month revolt against President Bashar Assad's rule. The League called on Assad to step down last week and is meeting with the Security Council in the coming days to discuss an Arab peace plan.