Syrian soldiers on the northeastern outskirts of Damascus, on August 30, 2013
Syrian soldiers on the northeastern outskirts of Damascus, on August 30, 2013 © Sam Skaine - AFP/File
Syrian soldiers on the northeastern outskirts of Damascus, on August 30, 2013
Last updated: November 19, 2013

Syria troops seize strategic Qara village

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Syrian troops on Tuesday captured the village of Qara in the mountainous Qalamoun region on a key supply route between Damascus and Homs, the army said in a statement.

The reported capture came after days of air strikes on the region near the Lebanese border, which is also a key smuggling route for rebels battling to oust President Bashar al-Assad.

"This morning units from our armed forces succeeded in taking control of the town of Qara in Damascus province," said the army, adding that many "terrorists" had been killed in the fighting.

Qara is located some 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of the capital, and close to the Lebanese border.

"This latest success is a continuation of the successes that our heroic armed forces are achieving in their battle against terrorism," the army said, as Assad's loyalists pressed an advance against rebel positions around the capital and in the north of Syria.

"This success consolidates our control on the supply routes... preventing terrorists from illegally entering and from smuggling weapons into Syria," the army added.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, said Al-Nusra Front, a group loyal to Al-Qaeda, had announced its withdrawal from Qara but "promised to be back soon."

The fighting in Qara, held by rebels for more than a year, sent at least 1,700 families streaming across the border into Lebanon, which is already hosting more than 800,000 Syrian refugees and has suffered from rising unrest linked to the conflict in its larger neighbour.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR estimates at least 6,000 people have fled to the Lebanese town of Arsal, near the border, since Friday.

Elsewhere in Syria, the Observatory reported eight people killed overnight when a missile fired by the army hit a hospital in Homs province.

In the main northern city of Aleppo, state news agency SANA said four people were killed when rebel rocket fire hit the mayor's office.

"Four citizens were killed and 10 others injured by a terrorist attack with rockets on the mayor's office in Aleppo," SANA said.

In the capital, one mortar round struck near a Red Crescent hospital, wounding six people, while another hit the compound of the famed Umayyad Mosque, SANA said.

The rebels have bases on the outskirts of Damascus from which they have repeatedly fired into government-held areas in the city centre.

The death toll from rebel bombing of an army base in Harasta, near Damascus, on Sunday meanwhile rose to 68, including 13 officers, the Observatory said.

The conflict has claimed an estimated 120,000 lives and generated the biggest refugee crisis in two decades, raising fears that the fighting could spill over into volatile neighbouring states like Lebanon and Iraq.

The uprising against Assad's rule began in March 2011 as peaceful pro-democracy protests but escalated into a full-blown insurgency after a brutal government crackdown.

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