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News, March 2014
Syrian Forces Fully Control Rebel Stronghold of Yabroud Near Lebanon
Syrian army fully recaptures Yabroud near Damascus
English.news.cn 2014-03-16 16:12:37
DAMASCUS, March 16, 2014 (Xinhua) --
Syrian troops on Sunday fully recaptured the town of Yabroud, dislodging the rebels from that strategic area north of the capital Damascus, local media said.
The Syrian army killed a large number of militants inside Yabroud, while many others fled out of the town, the official SANA news agency said, adding the troops are currently dismantling roadside bombs planted by rebels.
The pan-Arab al-Mayadeen TV said clashes are still heard from the town's outskirts, while the central neighborhoods are fully empty of rebel fighters.
It said the clashes over the past 24 hours were "so heavy," as fighters of the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front had strongly resisted, but finally fled away after 13 of their field commanders were killed.
The TV said large numbers of rebels have fled to nearby towns of Rankous, Flaita and the border town of Ersal in Lebanon.
The TV aired live footages of Yabroud, showing scenes of destruction. No sign of life or presence of civilians appeared. It said most of the civilians had fled when the battles started to intensify.
In mid-February, the army started a major offensive to recapture Yabroud by securing its surroundings before pressing into the town.
Yabroud, located some 80 km north of Damascus, is an important stronghold of the armed rebels on the slope of the mountainous Qalamoun region. It's near the Lebanese town of Ersal, where the rebels obtained weapons and medical treatment.
Military experts said that recapturing Yabroud will help the government forces secure the international road connecting Damascus and the central province of Homs, as well as some provinces on the Mediterranean coast.
Syrian Forces Fully Control Rebel Stronghold of Yabroud Near Lebanon
By Mariam Karouny and Stephen Kalin
March 16, 2014
Syrian forces backed by Hezbollah militants took full control of the town of Yabroud on Sunday after driving out rebels, helping President Bashar al-Assad secure the land route linking the capital Damascus to Aleppo and the Mediterranean coast.
The fall of Yabroud, the last rebel bastion near the Lebanese border, could choke off a vital insurgent supply line from Lebanon and consolidate government control over a swathe of territory from Damascus to the central city of Homs.
The army "restored security and stability to Yabroud...after eliminating a large number of terrorist mercenaries," the Syrian military said in a statement hailing the strategic victory.
A military source told Reuters about 1,000 militants from the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front had held out on Saturday to fight government forces which had entered eastern districts of Yabroud and captured several hilltops.
"They fought a fierce battle and then from last night until the early hours of today they all pulled out," he said.
The source said the militants had withdrawn to the nearby villages of Hosh Arab, Fleita and Rankos as well as Arsal, a Lebanese border town 20 km (13 miles) to the northwest.
Hezbollah-operated Al Manar television broadcast scenes from Yabroud's main square where people walked around and talked in apparent safety. Soldiers replaced the three-star flag of the Syrian revolution with the government's two-star banner.
Footage from earlier in the day showed empty streets, shuttered shops and abandoned homes in a main thoroughfare. Heavy gunfire could be heard in the background.
The anti-Assad Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said fighters from the Lebanese Shi'ite Muslim militant group Hezbollah, who supported the Syrian army and pro-government fighters in sealing off the frontier area with Lebanon, were now in control of large parts of Yabroud.
The army had dismantled a large number of explosive devices planted by the rebels, state TV said.
Thousands of civilians fled Yabroud, a town of about 40,000 to 50,000 people roughly 60 km (40 miles) north of Damascus, and the surrounding areas after it was bombed and shelled last month ahead of the government offensive.
The government has been making incremental gains along the land route and around Damascus and Aleppo in the past months, regaining the initiative in the three-year uprising-turned-civil war which has killed more than 140,000 people.
BATTLE TO CLOSE THE CROSSINGS
The military source said that in parallel to the capture of Yabroud, the army and air force had closed 14 of 18 crossings into Lebanon, where violence has spilled over in the past year.
"In the next few days, the battle will be over closing these remaining crossings," the source said.
Syrian state television said the army was targeting rebels between Fleita and Arsal who had withdrawn from Yabroud.
Al Manar said air raids had destroyed several trucks carrying fleeing militants near Arsal.
An influx of militants into Lebanon from Syria threatens to further destabilize the small Mediterranean country whose own 15-year civil war ended in 1990.
Sectarian tensions between Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims have already been heightened by the war in Syria, causing insecurity and political gridlock.
A local Lebanese official from Arsal told Al Arabiya television he wanted the Lebanese army to secure the border and prevent militants fleeing Yabroud from entering his town.
"We in Arsal are not ready to accept militants. Even if we support the revolution, the militants' battle is in Syria, not in Lebanon. Arsal will not be the place from which war is sparked inside Lebanon," he said.
A Nusra Front fighter in Yabroud denied that the rebels had planned to withdraw to Arsal.
(Editing by Angus MacSwan and Sophie Walker)
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