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Syrian army says battling ex-al Qaeda fighters in Damascus suburb

AMMAN, March 21 (Reuters) - The Syrian army said on Tuesday it was engaged in heavy fighting with Syrian militants who had entered government-controlled areas of a strategic northeastern district of Damascus, state media reported.

In the army's first reaction to a renewed rebel offensive launched at dawn on one of the capital's major gateways, an army source said "terrorist groups" from former al Qaeda Nusra Front group had stormed parts of the district of Jobar.

"They are encircled," said the army statement which made no mention of fighting closer to the heart of the Old City near the Abassiyin area where rebels said they also had launched an attack.

(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)