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Syrian troops take key town near Lebanon border

Government seeking control of supply lines

DAMASCUS — Syrian government troops captured a key town near the Lebanese border from rebels on Tuesday, days after launching a broad offensive in the mountainous western region, state media, activists, and the army said.

The attack on Qara began Friday morning in what appeared to be an operation aimed at cutting off rebel supply lines from Lebanon. The Qara route is particularly important to rebels entrenched in suburbs around Damascus and also lies on the main north-south highway linking the capital to government strongholds along the Mediterranean coast.

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State TV reported troops were ‘‘in full control,’’ while the army said in a statement that it had captured the town Tuesday morning and that ‘‘large numbers of terrorists who took positions in the city were wiped out.’’ The Syrian government refers to all armed opposition fighters as terrorists.

‘‘This achievement aims to strengthen control of supply lines and crossing points all the way to the border with Lebanon,’’ it added.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed that government troops control the town. It said the rebels, including members of the Al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, had withdrawn.

But Nusra Front fighters and members of Al Qaeda’s Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant vowed to return to Qara soon, the Observatory added.

A reporter for the private Lebanon-based satellite channel Al-Mayadeen who is embedded with the Syrian army reported from inside the town that troops had begun dismantling mines and explosives planted by the rebels. The channel showed soldiers on patrol searching for booby traps.

The border offensive is part of a larger government push that started last month and has taken several objectives, including a string of opposition-held suburbs south of Damascus as well as two towns and a military base around the northern city of Aleppo.

Qara, some 160 miles north of Damascus, has borne the brunt of the offensive so far. On Monday, government warplanes and artillery pounded the town and surrounding countryside, according to the Observatory, which uses a network of activists to monitor the conflict.

In other developments, unable to find a country willing to dispose of Syria’s chemical weapons, the United States is considering plans to place the chemical components of the weapons on a barge where they would be dissolved or incinerated, said senior US officials.

The two systems under review are intended to destroy the precursor materials that are designed to be combined to form chemical munitions. Syria’s smaller arsenal of operational chemical weapons would be destroyed separately, officials said.

Officials from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is operating in Syria to locate and identify the weapons, would monitor the destruction, which would be carried out following safety standards set by legislation in the United States and the European Union, according to officials familiar with the proposal. Officials did not say whether any chemical residue would be dumped in the ocean.

Information from the New York Times was used in this report.
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