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Originally published February 11, 2014 at 6:14 AM | Page modified February 12, 2014 at 3:24 AM

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Syrian planes pound rebel town near Lebanon border

Syrian warplanes pounded a rebel-held town near the Lebanese border on Wednesday, activists said, in an apparent attempt to dislodge opposition fighters from the area and consolidate control over the border region.


Associated Press

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BEIRUT —

Syrian warplanes pounded a rebel-held town near the Lebanese border on Wednesday, activists said, in an apparent attempt to dislodge opposition fighters from the area and consolidate control over the border region.

Yabroud is the last rebel stronghold in the mountainous Qalamoun region. Backed by Lebanon's Hezbollah fighters, the Syrian army has been on a crushing offensive there since early December.

Wednesday's assault on Yabroud comes a day after a tense session between government officials and opposition leaders at peace talks in Geneva. There were no immediate plans for a meeting between the delegations Wednesday after government representatives and opposition leaders traded bitter accusations for the talks' failure to take off a day earlier.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported heavy fighting in Yabroud between troops loyal to President Bashar Assad and rebels trying to overthrow him. The Observatory, which has documented the conflict since it erupted in March 2011, said warplanes have carried out 10 airstrikes so far on Wednesday.

Yabroud has been controlled by the opposition for much of Syria's nearly 3-year-old conflict.

Lebanon's Mayadeen TV and Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV said the Syrian army has started "a wide-scale military operation in Yabroud" and that the troops "are advancing." In the early afternoon, Assad's troops took control of the village of Jarajir and surrounding hills on the Syrian side of the border, near the Lebanese town of Arsal.

Preparations were underway in Arsal to receive more Syrians fleeing the area.

Also Wednesday, Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Gennady Gatilov arrived in Geneva and met with U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi who was pessimistic over any progress at the talks, declaring Tuesday that "we are not making much progress."

A three-way meeting including Brahimi, Gatilov and U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman is scheduled to be held in Geneva Thursday to discuss the deadlock.

_____

Associated Press writer Zeina Karam contributed to this report from Geneva.



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