AMMAN - Rebels halted on Wednesday a Syrian army push to retake a strategic town on the main highway to Turkey, one day after it was captured by opposition fighters, activists said.

At least 30 rebels and scores of government forces were killed in the fighting near Maarat al-Numaan, 350 km (220 miles) north of Damascus, they said.

"The (Syrian army) column was composed of hundreds of tanks and vehicles. It was stopped at a heavy cost," Abu Musab Taha, a rebel commander in the area told Reuters.

Turkish armed forces have bolstered their presence along the 900-km (560-mile) border and have been responding over the past week to gunfire and shelling coming across from northern Syria, where government forces have been battling rebels who control swathes of territory.

Anas Othman, a resident of Maarat al-Numaan, said the town "is being destroyed" by air strikes and army artillery.

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