Syrian army regains control of areas near Aleppo

A view of a damaged mosque in Aleppo's Sheikh Saeed neighbourhood October 1, 2013. Photo - Molhem Barakat/Reuters

Beirut: Syria's army seized control of a strategic town in the northern province of Aleppo on Thursday after intense battles, a monitoring group said.

Meanwhile, activists accused an Al Qaeda front group of destroying a symbolic statue in the northern city of Raqqa, said the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Observatory added 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.

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".

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.

Cultural destruction
Activists accused the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) of tearing down a statue of Haroon 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 Raqqa, Syria's only rebel-held provincial capital, had recently set fire to statues and crosses inside churches.

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


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