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Syria troops seize rebel town as war turns 4

YABRUD/DAMASCUS -- Syria's army has taken total control of the strategic town of Yabrud from rebels after a fierce 48-hour-battle, an AFP journalist in the town on Sunday said.

"We took total control of the town at 10:00 am (0800 GMT)," an army officer confirmed to AFP as visibly exhausted soldiers rested on pavements lining the streets. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights NGO said army forces were advancing with support from Lebanon's Shiite movement Hezbollah, a staunch regime ally.

A military source said “13 rebel chiefs leading operations are dead,” adding there were “many deaths among the insurgents.”

State television broadcast images of the town from its outskirts and said troops had advanced two kilometers inside the town towards a roundabout.

Yabrud is a key rebel supply route and their last stronghold in the Qalamun region along the border with Lebanon and on the highway between Damascus and third city Homs.

The latest battle illustrates the intractability of the conflict that began on March 15, 2011 after popular uprisings that toppled dictators in Tunisia and Egypt.

Protests erupted in Syria's southern city of Daraa after teenagers were arrested over graffiti declaring: “The people want the fall of the regime.”

President Bashar al-Assad's regime cracked down on the protests, civilians took up arms, soldiers began to desert and an insurgency became full-scale civil war after the regime bombed the central city of Homs in February 2012.

Two years later, the conflict appears to have reached stalemate, with some predicting it could last another 10 or 15 years.

Rebels control large swathes of Syria, but are fighting both the regime and an al-Qaida-inspired group they once welcomed.

Loyalist forces hold the more densely populated regions, and are advancing south of Damascus, in the Qalamun region and in Aleppo in the north, seeking to protect the coast, major towns and key roads.

Rebel Chief Seeks Weapons

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The Syrian flag is waved near the Eiffel tower, which reads “Stand with Syria,” marking the third anniversary of the Syrian uprising in Paris, at Trocadero plaza on Saturday, March 15.

(AP)

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