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Middle East

Syria rebels storm strategic border town

Opposition fighters capture "important" Harem town near Turkish border after weeks of siege and heavy fighting.
Last Modified: 26 Dec 2012 11:15
Takeover of Harem town in northern Idlib province was latest in a string of recent rebel successes [Reuters]

Syrian rebels fully captured a northern town near the Turkish border after weeks of siege and heavy fighting, activists have said.

Tuesday’s takeover of Harem, a town of 20,000 in northern Idlib province, was the latest in a string of recent rebel successes that include the capture of wide areas along the border with Turkey.

Most of those areas have been in northern Aleppo province, where anti-government forces have captured at least three large military bases.

Mohammed Kanaan, an Idlib-based activist, said the last post to be taken was the historic citadel, which overlooked the town. The army had turned the citadel into a military post.

"Harem is fully liberated now," Kanaan he said via Skype.

He said that as the rebels pounded army posts and checkpoints in Harem, the troops withdrew to the citadel that later fell in the hands of rebels.

Rami-Abdul-Rahman, the head of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said nearly 30 soldiers and pro-government gunmen surrendered late on Monday.

"Harem was very important because it is one of the towns that was loyal to the regime," Abdul-Rahman said by telephone about the town that is nearly 2km from the Turkish border.

In Aleppo province, which neighbours Idlib, local activist Mohammed Saeed said rebels attacked a military base in the town of Mannagh near the border with Turkey.

He said it was one of four air bases in the province.

Meanwile, a new wave of Syrian refugees arrived to Turkey, fleeing the government bombardments in the central province of Hama.

Decrying 'slaughter'

The influx came after a government warplane attacked a bakery on Sunday, killing scores of people in the rebel-held town of Helfaya, in Hama province.

Syrian refugees celebrate Christmas in Lebanon

In his traditional Christmas address, Pope Benedict XVI decried the slaughter of the "defenseless" in Syria.

Anti-regime activists estimate more than 40,000 have died in fighting since the uprising began in March 2011.

The pope encouraged Arab spring nations, where long-serving dictators were forced to step down.

The six Gulf Arab states on Tuesday also urged action to halt mass killings and violations of international law in Syria.

"We ask the international community for serious and swift moves to stop these massacres and these severe attacks that contradict all religions and international laws and humanitarian principles," a communique, issued at the end of a two-day summit of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), read.

Gulf Arab leaders have long called for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, and in November the GCC recognised a newly formed opposition coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

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