Syria: Regime troops take strategic town


Syrian mourners attend a mass funeral in Damascus on Dec. 24, 2011, for 44 people killed in twin suicide bombings the previous day.


Louai Beshara

In a major setback for the Syrian rebels, regime troops have taken full control of the strategic town of Khirbet Ghazaleh, the Associated Press reported. The town is near a highway that links Damascus with Jordan.

Rebels withdrew from the town after days of fighting, Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told the AP. 

However, the victory for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's troops comes as other world leaders are condemning Assad. Last week, a Turkish border town was struck by car bombings that killed at least 46 people. Turkey officials accused the Assad regime of orchestrating the attacks. 

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Damascus officials have denied Turkey's allegations. In a press conference Sunday, Syria's information minister Omran al-Zoubi said that the attack was "incompatible" with the government's values.

On May 5, the Israeli Air Force struck Damascus. Israeli officials say they were trying to keep long-range missiles from the Syrian government from falling into the hands of Hezbollah.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to hold talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday about the Syrian conflict.  

"It is expected that major attention will be paid to the current situation in the Middle East, first and foremost in Syria," the Kremlin said in a statement, according to Agence France-Presse.

The meeting comes after the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday that Israel alerted the Obama administration to Moscow's plans to send S-300 missile batteries to the Syrian government. Israel said it got that information from its intelligence.

US Secretary of State John Kerry reacted strongly, urging Russia not to sell the defense systems to Syria. Moscow officials denied any such plans.