Syrian forces close to taking over long-held rebel town

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Syrian troops advanced in a major rebel-held town near the Lebanese border amid heavy bombardment from warplanes, artillery and tanks as the country's bloody conflict marked its third anniversary Saturday, state media and activists said.

The conflict, which began amid Arab Spring protests across the region, started off as demonstrations that turned into an armed insurgency and eventually became a full-blown civil war that activists say has killed more than 140,000 people and has seen 2 million people flee the country.

Peace talks between the government of President Bashar Assad and Syria's divided opposition haven't found a diplomatic solution to the crisis, which has seen sectarian violence rise as Islamic extremists entered the fight.

The main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, vowed in a statement Saturday marking the conflict's third anniversary "to bring down the Assad regime that is the main source of the Syrian people's suffering."

State media in Syria did not mention the anniversary.

In fighting on Saturday, Syrian state television said troops advanced in the town of Yabroud, near Syria's border with Lebanon, and now control of much of the area between the two countries.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Syrian air force conducted at least 15 air raids on the town. It said at least five opposition fighters were killed fighting government forces backed by members of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

Yabroud is the last major rebel-held town in the mountainous Qalamoun region, where Assad's forces have been waging an offensive for months to try to sever rebel supply lines across the porous border.

Syrian forces close to taking over long-held rebel town 03/15/14 [Last modified: Sunday, March 16, 2014 12:14am]

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