Syrian Army Advances Into Rebel-held Areas Near Aleppo and Damascus

Scores of Syrian refugees have arrive in eastern Lebanese town of Arsaal, due to rising violence, witnesses say.

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Syrian government troops have pushed deeper into rebel-held areas in the northern city of Aleppo and near the capital Damascus, state media and activists reported Saturday.

Government forces have recaptured positions from rebels on the outskirts of Aleppo, Syria's commercial hub, reported state television. The broadcaster showed footage of regime troops in the town of Tel Hasel, around 10 kilometers south-east of Aleppo.

The report described the advance as a key gain for the regime army to "cleanse the area from terrorists and liberate Aleppo airport," which has been closed since last year.

Activists, meanwhile, expressed concerns about the safety of civilians living in the area of Qalamoun, north of Damascus. Government troops, backed by fighters from their allies in Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah, have started a massive-scale offensive.

Scores of Syrian refugees have arrived in the eastern Lebanese town of Arsaal, on the border with Syria, due to rising violence at the homeland, said witnesses.

Trucks loaded with women and children entered the town in the early hours of Saturday, speaking of heavy shelling by government troops.

Syrian jets had carried out two airstrikes Thursday near Arsaal, a Sunni-dominated area that backs rebels fighting to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The battle for al-Qalamoun, a rugged region between the Syrian capital and central province of Homs, is key for Assad's army. Taking it would open more supply routes towards Homs, say observers.

Activists in Syria say Hezbollah has deployed 15,000 fighters for the onslaught on al-Qalamoun.

The Shiite group has repeatedly said its fighting along with Assad's troops is meant to "protect" Lebanese Shiites living in the border area against alleged attacks by Sunni rebels.

Syria's crisis started in March 2011 with anti-government protests, which soon developed into a devastating war after Assad's regime attempted to quell the demonstrations.

The rebellion has since splintered between a variety of secular and jihadist forces, vowing to topple Assad, who has been in power since 2000.

More than 100,000 people have been killed in Syria's conflict, according to UN estimates.

International efforts are under way for peace talks in Geneva in the near future, but it is unclear if either the government or the rebels are prepared to negotiate.

Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar Assad hold their weapon as they stand near a tank in Tel Hasel, Aleppo province after capturing it from rebels November 15, 2013.Credit: Reuters

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