Syrian forces wrest border town from rebels
BEIRUT (AP) -- Syrian government forces seized a town from rebels near the Lebanese border on Saturday, their latest attempt to cut off opposition fighters' fluid supply lines, state media and activists said.
Fighting lasted weeks around Zara, which rebels used as a base to attack pro-regime communities in the area, said Rami Abdurrahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. His group obtains its information from a network of activists on the ground.
Another activist who identified himself as Samy al-Homsi said the town was one of two last strongholds for rebels along the Lebanese border leading to the city of Homs, the other being the nearby village of al-Hosn.
"Without al-Hosn and Zara, it will be the end of the revolution to the west of Homs," al-Homsi said. "It's the only two areas left to the rebels there."
In previous fighting in the area, Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar Assad fired well into Lebanon, apparently to push back rebels trying to sneak across on well-trodden smuggling routes.
Abdurrahman and the Lebanon-based al-Mayadeen channel said Syrian forces were now advancing into the nearby area of Hasarijiyeh.
Government troops have struggled to stem the flow of arms and fighters entering from Syria's smaller neighbor. In the town of Yabroud - another rebel logistics hub near the capital - activists say its forces have been pummeling rebels for weeks with crude barrel bombs dropped by aircraft.
Death tolls from the reported strikes vary widely, as has often been the case during the three-year-long conflict. The Observatory said 16 civilians and 14 fighters died strikes on Friday, while an activist, who uses the name Amer, said in a Skype interview that four civilians were killed. Hundreds of civilians have died from the powerful but inaccurate weapons.
Meanwhile, Syria's main Western-backed coalition confirmed Saturday that it has chosen a new army chief following an embarrassing episode in which their former leader refused to step down.
The statement insisted that despite some "confusion," Brig. Gen. Abdul-Ilah al-Bashir would assume leadership of the coalition's military council.
The body originally issued the announcement appointing al-Bashir on Feb. 17. But two days later, Maj. Gen. Salim Idris rejected his dismissal. Then Idris, along with more than a dozen senior insurgent commanders, severed ties with the political opposition-in-exile, further fragmenting the notoriously divided rebel movement.
Idris was ousted by colleagues who blamed him for the waning influence of the coalition-backed Free Syrian Army, as Islamic-orientated brigades grew in power.