Conflict & Justice

Syrian troops secure strategic highway after three-week battle with rebels


Syrian pro-government forces read a map in the town of Nabak near Damascus on December 7, 2013, as the regime has been battling rebel forces to gain control of a string of strategic towns and villages along the Damascus-Homs highway, north of the capital. Government forces are seeking to encircle the rebels in the Qalamoun region north of Damascus and sever opposition supply lines across the nearby border with Lebanon. AFP PHOTO/SAM SKAINE (Photo credit should read SAM SKAINE/AFP/Getty Images)



Syrian government forces on Sunday secured a strategic highway linking the capital Damascus with the country’s north after a nearly three-week offensive against rebel fighters in a mountainous region.

The Damascus-Homs highway is used to transport fuel to the Syrian capital and potentially transport the country’s stockpile of chemical weapons to a Mediterranean port for destruction overseas. 

On Sunday, troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad seized control of the town of Nabek, which is located on the highway. Government forces had been trying to sever rebel supply routes that cross the mountainous region of Qalamoun to the nearby border with Lebanon.

Rami Abdurrahman, the director of UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told the Associated Press the highway was “open but not secure.”

The route remains “dangerous because it is still under rebel fire,” he said.

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The UN-backed Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical weapons, which is overseeing the removal of Syria’s chemical weapons, has said the highway could be used to transport the arsenal to the port of Latakia on the Mediterranean.

On Sunday, OPCW Director General Ahmet Uzumcu said the mission to remove the chemical weapons could be delayed by a “few days” due to technical problems.

The agency aims to transport all the weapons out of Syria by the end of the year and destroy the entire program by June 2014 under a deal struck by Russia and the United States in September.

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