Syrian troops take village near Lebanon

Regime diplomats ordered to leave the United States

Several roads were blocked in Lebanon Wednesday by protesters showing solidarity with the border town of Arsal.
Hussam Shebaro/Reuters
Several roads were blocked in Lebanon Wednesday by protesters showing solidarity with the border town of Arsal.

DAMASCUS, Syria — Syrian troops pressed an offensive near the Lebanese border on Wednesday, capturing a village from rebels whose forces appear to be collapsing along a key central front, state media and activists said.

Ras al-Ayyn was the latest area in the Qalamoun region to fall to government forces backed by Lebanese Hezbollah fighters. On Sunday, they captured Yabroud, a town that had served for months as a main rebel logistics hub.

‘‘It was a fast and crushing operation,’’ an unidentified Syrian Army officer in Ras Al-Ayn said on state television. ‘‘The operation will continue day and night until all terrorists are wiped out,’’ he said, referring to the rebels. A brigadier general, also unidentified, told the Lebanon-based Al-Mayadeen TV that ‘‘tens’’ of rebels were killed.


The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government troops captured the village after fighting several rebel factions — including the Qaeda-linked Nusra Front — for two days.

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For months, Syrian troops have been on the offensive in the mountainous Qalamoun region, aiming to cut rebel supply lines crossing the porous Lebanese border.

Also Wednesday, Syria criticized Washington for ordering the closure of its diplomatic and consular missions in the United States, requiring all personnel who are not legal US residents to leave the country.

‘‘This American move reveals the real goals of America’s policies against Syria and the interests of Syrian citizens,’’ the Foreign Ministry said in a statement about Tuesday’s decision. ‘‘It forms another step of the American support to terrorism and to shedding blood in Syria.’’

The American order should not affect Syria’s mission at the United Nations, although the State Department imposed restrictions this month limiting its ambassador to New York.


The Syrian Foreign Ministry described the US order as an arbitrary act that it said came in violation of the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations.

Syria’s uprising, which began with peaceful protests against the rule of President Bashar Assad in March 2011, evolved into a civil war that has killed more than 140,000.

Damascus says it is facing a Western conspiracy because of its support for groups opposed to the United States and Israel.

Earlier in the day, Lebanese security officials said Lebanese government troops dismantled roadblocks and reopened a key road to a predominantly Sunni town near the Syrian border.

The officials said the road leading to the town of Arsal reopened Wednesday morning and that reinforcements secured the area. They spoke on condition of anonymity.


The development comes after days of high tension in the area, where Shi’ite Hezbollah gunmen and residents had blocked off the road to the Sunni town of Arsal.


The Shi’ites blamed the townspeople and Syrian rebels who fled to Arsal for recent rocket fire on their villages and a car bombing that killed three people. The standoff prompted Sunnis to close roads elsewhere around Lebanon on Tuesday.

Also Wednesday, Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency said two rockets fell in the Qaa area, causing damage.

Meanwhile, the Netherlands-based chemical weapons watchdog said more than 45 percent of raw materials for Syria’s poison gas and nerve agent program slated for destruction outside the country have been shipped out.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons announced two shipments were loaded onto cargo ships in recent days at Latakia port.

Syria has missed several deadlines on a timetable agreed last year to eradicate its chemical weapons by June 30, but the government pledged to remove all chemicals by April’s end.

The chemicals will eventually be transferred to a US ship, the MV Cape Ray.