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Middle East

Syrian army captures strategic northern town

Safira, believed to be located near a chemical weapons site, seized from rebels who held the town for more than a year.

Last Modified: 01 Nov 2013 12:08
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Safira had been controlled by rebels, including some allegedly linked to al-Qaeda, for more than a year [Reuters]

Syrian government forces have captured a northern town located near a site believed to be linked to the country's chemical weapons programme after days of heavy fighting, Syrian state TV and opposition activists said.

The town, Safira, is also located on a strategic road that could be used to relieve government-controlled areas of Aleppo, a major nearby city.

It had been controlled by rebels, including some from units allegedly linked to al-Qaeda, for more than a year.

"Government forces took control of the strategic Safira town after days of clashes and heavy shelling," the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Reuters news agency.

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Syrian activists in Aleppo province confirmed on Friday that rebels withdrew from the town overnight under heavy fire, leaving it to government troops, The Associated Press reported.

It has been the scene of three weeks of intense fighting as the army kept trying to retake it from rebels .

Although unconfirmed, Safira is believed to be one of two sites that chemical weapons inspectors were unable to visit because of security concerns.

Syria has destroyed all of its declared chemical weapons production and mixing facilities, meeting a major deadline in an ambitious disarmament programme, the international chemical weapons watchdog said in a document seen by Reuters news agency earlier this week.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said in the document its teams had inspected 21 out of 23 chemical weapons sites across the country.

The other two were too dangerous to inspect, but the chemical equipment had already been moved to other sites which experts had visited, it said.

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