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Syrian Army retakes road to key city

BEIRUT — Syrian troops wrested control of a key road linking the government-held heartland with the embattled northern city of Aleppo, reopening the crucial supply route after heavy fighting with rebels, state media and activists said Monday.

Government forces and opposition fighters have been locked in a bloody, block-by-block fight for Aleppo since rebels launched an assault on the city 15 months ago. The battle has been locked in a stalemate, with neither side willing to relent control of Syria’s largest city.

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With much of the northern countryside now in opposition hands, a cat-and-mouse game has emerged over the past year as the rebels try to cut the government supply lines to the regime’s remaining troops in the north, particularly in Aleppo.

After the rebels cut the main north-south highway late last year, President Bashar Assad’s regime built a desert road to bypass contested areas. Opposition fighters responded by severing the alternate route — a winding road that runs northeast from the city of Hama — in August. It was that desert road that regime troops reopened late Sunday, according to Syria’s state news agency and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights activist group.

At the United Nations, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon revealed his plan to remove chemical weapons from Syria. One hundred specialists, drawn from the United Nations and the organization that polices the global ban on such weapons, would be sent to Syria over the next eight months to help dismantle and destroy its 1,000-ton arsenal, an extremely hazardous task that has never been tried and that could fail without Syria’s cooperation, Ban said.

The plan, which requires approval from the Security Council, would include a staging ground on the Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus.

He said the staging ground would help increase security for the workers and their specialized equipment.

It is “highly probable,” Ban said, that he will ask other member states to help in the joint mission.

Members of a team of experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons had started the process of destroying the arms and machinery used to make them this past weekend.

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