Syrian army besieges town in strategic Qalamoun mountains

November 17, 2013 17:42


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BEIRUT - Syrian forces are besieging a key town in the Qalamoun mountains, activists said on Sunday, a region used by rebels to cross from Lebanon and which links the capital to government strongholds along the coast.

Activist video footage showed artillery damage in the small highway town of Qara, roughly 50 km (30 miles) north of Damascus. The United Nations says that around one thousand families fled Qara for the Lebanese frontier on Saturday as the army closed in.

But UN refugee agency spokeswoman Dana Sleiman said there were no more families crossing the border on Sunday. This could be a result of closed army checkpoints around Qara.

A battle for the Qalamoun area, predicted for months by observers on both sides, could lead to unrest in neighboring Lebanon as refugee numbers rise and Sunni Muslim anger grows against the Lebanese Shi'ite Hezbollah group which is helping crush the majority Sunni revolt.

Forces loyal to President Bashar Assad have used sieges to root out rebels from residential areas during the civil war that has cost more than 100,000 lives and displaced millions.

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