BEIRUT  - Warplanes on Wednesday pounded suburbs of Damascus as regime forces fought to reclaim rebel-held areas of the capital, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

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The Britain-based watchdog, which uses a countrywide network of activists and doctors to compile its tolls, said at least 123 people were killed on Tuesday, including some 30 in and around Damascus. Damascus has now become the focus of clashes. President Bashar al-Assad’s forces on Tuesday blasted a string of rebel zones on the eastern and southwestern outskirts of the city.

“The air force is bombarding Mleha and Zabdine” in southeast Damascus, the Observatory said, adding that Daraya to the southwest was under artillery fire, amid clashes at Saqba to the east. Battles east of Damascus have grown especially bloody as troops try to push back rebels in the Eastern Ghouta region who have inched closer towards the capital.

Warplanes on Wednesday overflew the area, through which passes the road to Damascus international airport. The watchdog also reported security force swooped on several areas in the city centre. More than 41,000 people have been killed as the Syrian conflict approaches the 21-month mark, according to the Observatory.

Al-Watan, a daily close to the government, said on Wednesday the army “continues to hunt armed groups along the road to the international airport, killing or wounding dozens of terrorists” - the regime’s term for rebels. In the northwest, seven soldiers were killed in “a rebel attack on a checkpoint south of Maaret al-Numan on the Aleppo-Damascus road,” the Observatory said. There was also fighting around the Wadi Deif military base, which has been under siege since rebels took Maaret al-Numan in October, it reported. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in remarks published Wednesday that Ankara knows the “exact location” of hundreds of ground missiles belonging to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “Assad has about 700 missiles... Now we know the exact location of all of them, how they are stored and who holds them,” Davutoglu was quoted as saying by the Sabah newspaper.

The comments emerged the day after Nato ministers approved Turkey’s request for deployment of Patriot missiles along its volatile border with Syria, a move that has angered Damascus and its allies.

Davutoglu said the international community feared possible attacks from Damascus against countries such as Turkey which were pushing for the toppling of the regime, if it felt the end was near. “We say to anyone who would want to attack Turkey - don’t even think about it,” Nato head Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in announcing the alliance’s decision on the Patriots, a US-made ground to air system.

The number of missile batteries and their precise location have yet to be decided and will be determined after a site survey in Turkey and consultations within Nato.

UN leader Ban Ki-moon sent a letter to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad warning that any use of chemical weapons would be “an outrageous crime,” his spokesman said Wednesday.

UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said the letter was handed to Syrian authorities on Tuesday. Ban also wrote to the Syrian leader earlier this year about Syria’s chemical arsenal. “The fundamental responsibility of the Syrian government is to ensure the safety and security of any such stockpile, and of course the use of any such weapons would be an outrageous crime,” Nesirky said.

Ban said during a trip to Qatar earlier Wednesday that Syria would face “huge consequences” if it used the weapons which have been at the center of renewed Western warnings in recent days. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also warned Damascus again Wednesday that any use of chemical weapons against rebel forces was a clear red line that must not be crossed.

Clinton, attending her last Nato foreign ministers meeting, said Washington had made its views “absolutely clear through various channels” to Syria about an issue which the “entire international community is united on.”

“Our concern is that an increasingly desperate regime might turn to chemical weapons ... or lose control of them” to groups in Syria, she said, describing the issue as “a red line.” Clinton said the focus in Syria should now be about the political transition, as quickly as possible, from President Bashar al-Assad, and Washington would do all it could to support the recently formed united opposition.