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Backed By Hezbollah, Syrian Army Presses Campaign Toward Syria’s Largest City Aleppo

Forces loyal to Syria’s Bashar al-Assad regime today intensified their bombardment of the mountain town of Qara, a strategically important crossing point between Lebanon and Syria used by opposition forces. The town also sits near the highway that connects Damascus to Syria’s largest city Aleppo, and the Syrian military’s advance on Qara is the latest in a campaign to steadily erode rebel positions in northeast Syria.

Rebels sources had last week reported that the Syrian military had seized five towns near Damascus in 10 days.

Syrian state television had meanwhile announced that the army had captured three towns around Aleppo and were preparing to continue onto the city itself. Observers have feared since last summer that Syrian forces, backed on the ground by Iranian fighters and fighters drawn from Iran’s Lebanese proxy Hezbollah, would move to expel opposition forces which have controlled parts of the city since at least 2012.

The gains are designed both to solidify the regime’s military position and to strengthen its hand in advance in upcoming peace talks. The march is continuing:

Rami Abdelrahman of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said clashes were continuing in the southern outskirts of Tel Hasel on Friday evening. But fighters from the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant had already withdrawn north towards Aleppo, now divided between Assad’s forces and rebels. “It’s a matter of time before the army has full control of Tel Hasel,” said Abdelrahman, who monitors the violence through a network of activists, medics and military sources.

[Photo: Sovereign Syria / YouTube]