A handout picture released by SANA on March 17, 2014 shows Syrian pro-government forces and supporters of President Bashar al-Assad hoisting the national flag in Yabrud
A handout picture released by SANA on March 17, 2014 shows Syrian pro-government forces and supporters of President Bashar al-Assad hoisting the national flag in Yabrud © - SANA/AFP/File
A handout picture released by SANA on March 17, 2014 shows Syrian pro-government forces and supporters of President Bashar al-Assad hoisting the national flag in Yabrud
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AFP
Last updated: March 18, 2014

Syria troops advance after seizing rebel stronghold

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Syrian troops have advanced west of the fallen rebel stronghold of Yabrud, entering a new village in the Qalamoun region near the Lebanese border, state news agency SANA said Tuesday.

"The Syrian army is progressing in the village of Ras al-Ain, southwest of Yabrud, killing a large number of terrorists," said SANA, using the regime's term for rebels.

Earlier, a security source told AFP the army had taken control of several hills overlooking the village.

The army, backed by Lebanese Hezbollah fighters and pro-regime militiamen, seized the strategic town of Yabrud Sunday after a month of shelling and air strikes, as it moves to sever rebel supply routes across the border.

The army and Hezbollah have now set their sights on the villages of Rankus, south of Yabrud, and Flita and Ras al-Maara, to its northwest.

Elsewhere, regime planes bombed the northern city of Aleppo, killing at least four people, including two children, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group that relies on activists and other witnesses inside Syria.

The violence in Aleppo came as a prominent female activist detained there a day earlier by rebels for refusing to wear the Islamic headscarf was released.

The Army of Mujahedeen, which had detained Marcell Shehwaro and her friend Mohammad Khalili, issued a statement "apologising in the strongest terms" for the incident.

Elsewhere in Aleppo, troops battled Islamist rebels, including the Al-Qaeda affiliated Al-Nusra Front, leaving at least seven people dead, according to the Observatory.

In the Damascus area, five people were killed by opposition mortar fire, state news agency SANA reported.

Four people were killed in the Jaramana suburb, southeast of the capital, and another in the city itself, SANA said.

In the central Syrian city of Homs, five people were killed and 25 others wounded in a mortar attack against Mahata, a majority Christian area, and Inshaat, in the west of the city, SANA added.

More than 146,000 people have been killed in Syria's three-year war, and nearly half the population has been displaced.

The March 2011 uprising against President Bashar al-Assad initially took the form of peaceful protests but escalated into a full-blown insurgency after the regime launched a brutal crackdown on dissent.

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