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Syrian forces fiercely protect vital supply artery

AL-QASR, LEBANON — Syrian soldiers backed by warplanes battled rebels for control of strategic hilltop villages near the Lebanese border on Friday, as government troops step up counterattacks against opposition forces threatening regime supply lines.

Bomb blasts and shots fired into the air to mourn a fallen Syrian government soldier could be heard on the Lebanese side of the border as fighting raged around Qusair, a contested central Syrian town near a key highway between Damascus and the coast.

The battles there came as government forces launched a second offensive against rebels in the province of Daraa on the Jordanian border, where the opposition has been making steady advances in recent weeks.

While President Bashar Assad's forces are stretched thin and much of the country has been allowed to slip into the hands of the rebels, the government is still fighting hard to keep control of airports, seaports, and roads linking them to Damascus, the capital, that are seen as essential to its survival.

Also on Friday, activists said rebels clashed with troops in the northeastern border city of Qamishli, two miles from the turkish border. Fighting is rare in the predominantly Kurdish and Christian city, where rebels usually maintain a truce with the government.

It was not clear what prompted the clashes.

Syria's rebels have gained momentum and made significant gains in the past weeks, largely due to an influx of arms. Arab officials and Western military experts say Mideast powers opposed to Assad have stepped up weapons supplies to Syrian rebels, with Jordan opening up as a new route.

Syrian forces fiercely protect vital supply artery 04/12/13 [Last modified: Saturday, April 13, 2013 12:31am]
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