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Fortified Syrian rebels fight army advance on seized town

MAARET AL-NUMAN, Syria -- Syrian rebels blocked on Saturday army reinforcements advancing towards the town of Maaret al-Numan which has been under rebel control for nearly a week, an AFP journalist said.

In its bid to retake the town, strategically located in the northwest on the road from Turkey to the embattled city of Aleppo, the army used warplanes to bombard Maaret al-Numan, killing two civilians and destroying three homes.

Some 40 military vehicles, including 10 tanks, four-wheel-drive vehicles with mounted machineguns and buses full of troops were waiting some 10 kilometers (6 miles) south of the town, rebel fighters told AFP.

The rebel Free Syrian Army seized control of Maaret al-Numan on Tuesday, pushing the army out into two military bases on its outskirts, and blocking the arrival of new reinforcements to Aleppo.

“The rebels tried again to storm the Wadi Deif army base (on Saturday) ... when they were bombarded by a MiG fighter jet,” said Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Director Rami Abdel Rahman.

Rebels have also seized part of the road running through the town, which has slowed the army's attempt to advance.

Regime forces have been launching rockets daily from the two bases on the outskirts, focusing their fire mainly on an underground emergency field hospital.

On Saturday, army shelling injured 20 rebel fighters, the observatory said.

Residents of villages surrounding Maaret al-Numan fled en masse because of the violence, according to the Britain-based watchdog.

Experts say the Syrian army has been worn down by an increase in the number of battlefronts and rebel attacks that have cut major supply routes and undermined the regime's military superiority.

The army relies mainly on its air supremacy to slow the progress of the insurgency against President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

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A Syrian man cries after losing a member of his family as he sits outside his destroyed building following an airstrike by government forces in the town of Maaret al-Numan in Idlib province, Syria on Saturday, Oct. 13, in which two residents were killed. (AFP)

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