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Syria army retakes northern town

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Syria's army took back control of a strategic town in the northern province of Aleppo on Thursday after a weeks-long battle pitting troops against rebels, a monitoring group said.

Rebels meanwhile made fresh gains in southern Syria, while activists accused an Al-Qaeda front group of destroying a symbolic statue in the northern city of Raqa, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Observatory said dozens of fighters on both sides were killed in the battle for Khanasser, a town located on a key supply route linking central Syria to second city Aleppo.

Opposition factions had cut off the army's supply route to Aleppo in August, when they had seized Khanasser and some nearby villages.

At least 25 rebel fighters were killed on Wednesday alone, as were 18 pro-regime militiamen, said the Britain-based Observatory.

Fighting has raged on, as President Bashar al-Assad's regime "used helicopters and warplanes to bombard" the area, it added.

Al-Watan, a pro-regime newspaper, also reported the takeover, a development it said "opens the way to allow aid to reach the city (of Aleppo) in the coming hours".

Meanwhile, Aleppo-based citizen journalist Abu Omar told AFP that "the fighting is hit and run. The takeover of Khanasser does not mean the battle is over".

Large swathes of Aleppo have been out of army control for months, but the army has pushed hard to reopen a route into the provincial capital, Syria's one-time commercial capital.

In Daraa in southern Syria, meanwhile, rebels took control of Bakar village, said the Observatory.

"It is important because it shows the opposition is making continuous progress in the south," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

Daraa is strategically located between a sensitive area between Jordan, Damascus and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

"At the moment, there isn't a single Syrian loyalist soldier deployed anywhere from Daraa city to the Golan Heights," Abdel Rahman said.

In the north, meanwhile, activists accused the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) of tearing down a statue of Harun al-Rashid in Raqa city.

Rashid was an Abbasid ruler who lived in the eighth century, and whose era was marked by cultural progress.

ISIL fighters in Raqa, Syria's only rebel-held provincial capital, had recently set fire to statues and crosses inside churches.

Jihadists had previously torn down a statue of a well-known poet, Abu al-Alaa al-Maari.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/131003/syria-army-retakes-northern-town