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Syria rebels seize town on key highway to south: NGO

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Syrian rebels have seized a key town on a main highway between Damascus and the south in their latest advance in Daraa province on the border with Jordan, a watchdog said on Friday.

"Rebels seized control of Dael after destroying the three army checkpoints at the entrances to the town," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. "The town is located on a main road linking Daraa to Damascus."

The Britain-based watchdog said that a child was among 10 civilians killed in the fighting for the town over the past 24 hours.

At least 15 rebels and a media activist working with them were also killed, as were 12 loyalist troops, it added.

"Large swathes of Daraa (province) are now under rebel control. Their advance in the south is escalating," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

"The rebels are inching closer to the provincial capital, and several towns and villages are now out of army hands. Daraa city is cut off almost completely from Damascus," he added.

The capture of Dael came a day after a loyalist MP from Daraa province raised the alarm in parliament.

Walid al-Zohbi said rebels were advancing "in all towns and villages in Daraa province, which is torn from east to west after the army withdrew from many positions".

"They may have pulled out for tactical reasons, we don't know. But at any rate, terrorists from Al-Nusra Front have taken their place," he added of a jihadist group with roots in Iraq which is blacklisted by Washington as a terrorist organisation.

On Sunday, the Observatory reported that the rebels had seized a swathe of land stretching 25 kilometres (15 miles) east to west along the Jordanian border to the sensitive ceasefire line between Syria and Israel.

Elsewhere fighting raged in the northern city of Aleppo and clashes erupted on the outskirts of Damascus, mostly in the districts of Qaboon and Yarmuk, the Observatory said.

At least 14 pro-regime fighters were killed in Aleppo where shelling left eight people dead, including two children, and wounded 60, it said.

Farther west of the city a missile slammed into the village of Hreitan killing at least nine civilians, including two children and four women, the watchdog added.

At least 150 people were killed in violence nationwide on Thursday, including 14 students and a child who died in a mortar attack on Damascus University.

On Friday, at least 65 people were killed, the Observatory said.

In all, more than 70,000 people have been killed in Syria since March 2011, the United Nations says.

ser-ram/hkb/srm

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130329/syria-rebels-seize-town-key-highway-south-ngo-0