Free Syrian Army fighters gather after they said they fought and defeated government troops from the town of Ras al-Ain, near the province of Hasaka, 600km from Damascus.

Beirut -

Syrian government forces launched a crackdown on suspected dissenters on Friday, making mass arrests in the capital Damascus, activists said.

“Government forces have started since the early hours of the day storming houses and randomly arresting people across Damascus and its outskirts,” Haytham al-Abdullah, a Syrian activist, told dpa.

“We have so far reports that at least 50 people were arrested, including four women,” he added.

Fierce clashes reportedly erupted between President Bashar al-Assad's troops and opposition fighters in the area of Zabdani in the eastern part of Damascus, and Darya on its outskirts.

The state news agency SANA said a reporter working for Syrian television had been killed overnight by rebels in the district of al-Tadamon, south of Damascus.

The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights meanwhile said the body of the prominent Syrian writer, Mohammed Rowaili, was found - two months after he had been kidnapped by pro-al-Assad forces in the eastern province of Deir al Zour.

Rowaili, 70, was a former head of the Arab Writers' Union.

At least 40 000 people have been killed in Syria since a revolt against al-Assad's rule started in March last year, according to the Britain-based watchdog.

Independent verification of reports coming out of Syria is hampered by government restrictions on the movement of journalists. - Sapa-dpa