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Syrian troops tighten grip on Yabroud rebel stronghold

DAMASCUS, March 3 (Xinhua) -- The Syrian troops on Monday recaptured areas in the surroundings of a key contested town north of the capital Damascus, the official news agency SANA reported.

The Syrian forces wrested back control over the town of Sahel and the Rima orchards in the surrounding of the Yabroud, a key rebel stronghold north of Damascus, where the Syrian troops have started a wide-scale offensive to recapture the area deemed important to deter the flow of rebels and weapons from Lebanon into Syria and vice versa.

A military source told Xinhua on Monday that the Syrian army has almost fully tightened its grip on the surroundings of Yabroud and will start storming the area soon.

Meanwhile, the pan-Arab al-Mayadeen TV said the rebels' dead bodies were seen in the areas that have been retaken by the regular troops.

In mid-February, the army started a major offensive to recapture Yabroud by securing its surroundings before pressing into the town itself.

Yabroud, some 80 km north of Damascus, is deemed as an important stronghold of armed rebels due to its location on the slope of the mountainous Qalamoun region and proximity to the Lebanese town of Ersal, where the rebels get weapons medical treatment.

Also, the town's rugged terrain and ancient caves give them shelter from government air raids.

Military experts said that by recapturing Yabroud, the government forces can secure the international road connecting Damascus to the central province of Homs and some provinces on the Mediterranean coast, and could deter the flow of car bombs into neighboring Lebanon.

Yabroud's open road to Ersal has facilitated the transport of booby-trapped cars into the Syrian neighbor, whose capital Beirut has been rocked recently by a series of suicide car bombings.

The attacks targeted some strongholds of Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah militant group, whose fighters are battling al-Qaida- linked rebels alongside the Syrian troops in the central part of the country.

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