Middle East

Syria crisis: Deadly car bomb strikes north of Damascus

Free Syrian Army fighters in Deir al-Zor. 14 July 2013
Image caption Fighting is still raging between rebels and government forces across Syria

A car bomb has exploded north of the Syrian capital Damascus killing at least 13 people including 10 policemen, activists say.

The overnight blast struck near a police station in the town of Deir Atiyeh, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

State-run Sana news agency confirmed the attack, saying "terrorists" had caused an unknown number of casualties.

The blast comes as the Syrian army tries to regain ground around Damascus.

Correspondents say the government looks poised to retake Jobar and advance towards Qaboun, both held for months by opposition forces.

Rebels have used Jobar and Qaboun to launch mortar rounds on government positions in the heart of the capital, reports say.

"The army is advancing rapidly in Jobar," a Syrian military commander told the Associated Press.

"The area will be secured in the next few days according to a well-studied plan."

Pakistani fighters

The observatory - which relies on a network on opposition activists on the ground - said 200 civilians had been held captive by government troops inside a mosque in Qaboun on Sunday night.

They were able to escape when clashes broke out near the mosque and the army retreated, the observatory said. The report cannot be verified.

Meanwhile, fighting is said to have intensified in the city of Aleppo between jihadists and the main opposition forces the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

The clashes follow the assassination in Latakia of an FSA commander at the hands of a group linked to al-Qaeda.

The killing late last week is part of an escalating struggle within the armed uprising between moderates and Islamists.

In another development, the Pakistani Taliban told Reuters news agency on Sunday that they had sent "hundreds" of fighters to Syria.

A senior commander said they had gone at the request of "Arab friends" and had set up camps in Syria.

UN says more than 90,000 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising again President Bashar al-Assad began in 2011. A further 1.7 million have been forced to seek shelter in neighbouring countries.