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Bashar regime retakes Syrian town on border with Lebanon

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
June 26th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

In what is seen as a major setback to rebel forces, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government forces have retaken a town near the border the nation shares with Lebanon. This news comes as the Syrian death toll from the ongoing civil war has reached six figures - it's now estimated that 100,000 people have directly died on account of the hostilities.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic online) - Government forces regained control of Tel Kalakh, driving out the insurgents, ending an unofficial truce under which it had allowed a small rebel presence to remain for several months.

Two miles from the border with Lebanon, the fall of Tel Kalakh, marks yet another gain for Assad after the capture of the rebel stronghold of Qusair earlier this month. This development consolidates Bashar's control around the central city of Homs, which links Damascus to his Alawite heartland overlooking the Mediterranean coast.

Tel Kalakh, like Qusair, was used by rebel forces in the early stages of the conflict as a transit point for weapons and fighters smuggled into Syria to join the fight against Assad. Pro-Assad Web sites showed video footage of soldiers patrolling the town in armored cars and on foot.

"Terrorist groups infiltrated and terrorized the local people," an army officer is heard in a video. "In response to the request of the local people, the army entered Tel Kalakh to cleanse the area and restore security."

Three rebels were killed as the army moved in. According to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-opposition monitoring group, rebels fled the town on Tuesday, retreating towards the nearby Crusader fort of Crac des Chevaliers.

Assad's opponents were challenging the president's grip on parts of Damascus six months ago. Opposition forces are now under fierce military pressure there, while their supply lines from neighboring Jordan and Lebanon have steadily been choked off.

Western and Arab nations have pledged to send urgent military aid to the rebels, in light of recent developments.

Hezbollah's involvement with the Assad regime has highlighted the increasingly sectarian dynamic in the Syrian conflict. Hezbollah and Tehran back Assad, whose Alawite minority is an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, while Sunni Muslim states such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have stepped up support for the mainly Sunni rebels.

Sounding a warning cry, Jordan's King Abdullah said the war could ignite conflict across the Middle East unless global powers helped to convene peace talks soon.

"It has become clear to all that the Syrian crisis may extend from being a civil war to a regional and sectarian conflict...the extent of which is unknown," the monarch said in a newspaper interview.

"It is time for a more serious Arab and international coordination to stop the deterioration of the Syrian crisis. The situation cannot wait any longer," he added.

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