Assad forces target key town

Syria’s air force is besieging Qara, a strategic town in the Qalmoun mountains

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Syria’s air force launched air raids on Qara near the border with Lebanon on Sunday as loyalist forces tried to storm rebel positions in the town, Agence France-Presse reported a monitoring group as saying.

“Since the morning, the town of Qara has been hit by air strikes,” AFP quoted Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman as saying.

“Warplanes bombarded the town heavily yesterday (Saturday). Regime troops are trying to storm it and to drive the rebels out,” Abdel Rahman added.

Meanwhile, activist video footage has showed artillery damage in the small highway town of Qara, roughly 50 km (30 miles) north of Damascus, Reuters reported.

As the army closed in, the United Nations said that around one thousand families fled Qara for the Lebanese frontier on Saturday.

But U.N. refugee agency spokeswoman Dana Sleiman said there were no more families crossing the border on Sunday. This could be a result of closed army checkpoints around Qara.

Both the regime, backed by fighters from powerful Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah, and rebels including jihadists affiliated to al-Qaeda have bolstered their forces in the area.

Qara is used by rebels to cross from Lebanon, and it links Damascus to government strongholds along the coast.

It also houses regime weapons depots, according to AFP.

For months, Qalamoun mostly avoided the violence tearing other areas of Syria apart, but in past weeks parts of the town have been battered by near-daily shelling.

The clashes in Qalamoun appear to be part of a long-anticipated government offensive aimed at cutting a key rebel supply route and cementing President Bashar al-Assad’s hold on the strategic corridor from the capital to the coast.

(With agencies)

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