September 3, 2013 - 16:10 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - Syrian forces seized the strategic northern town of Ariha on Tuesday, Sept 3, an opposition group said, according to Reuters.
Other activists, however, said the battle was not over and that rebels were still fighting the regime in Ariha, located near a major highway in the northern province of Idlib.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which reported the Assad military gain, said loyalist paramilitary forces, known as the National Defense Forces, stormed and captured Ariha under the cover of a fierce army artillery assault.
"This allows the regime in (coastal) Latakia to reconnect the land routes between them and their forces in Idlib province, which were under strain in an area surrounded by rebel forces," said Rami Abdelrahman, head of the Britain-based Observatory.
Assad's forces in recent months have gained ground in central Syria and around the capital Damascus, but have made no major dent in rebel control of large swathes of northern or eastern Syria.
The army has threatened a new campaign in the north but so far there has been no major assault.
The United Nations said the number of civilians who had fled to neighboring countries had surpassed two million — a new milestone in what it called “the great tragedy of this century, a disgraceful humanitarian calamity.”
About 40,000 Syrians fled to Iraq in the last two weeks of August, and 13,000 arrived in Lebanon in the past week. Over all, close to 5,000 Syrians are leaving every day.
By the end of August, Lebanon had more than 716,000 Syrians who were registered as refugees with the United Nations and many more who were unregistered.
U.S. President Barack Obama this week plans to urge reluctant world leaders to back an American-led strike against Syria even though the prospects for military action depend on the votes of a fractured U.S. Congress that will convene after a recession on Sept 9.
Obama seeks support to military action in Syria in response to what the administration says was a chemical weapons attack.
While Syria isn't officially on the agenda at the economy-focused G-20 summit, Obama administration officials say the president sees the gathering as an opportunity to press his counterparts to support military action against the Assad regime. World leaders also will seek guidance from the U.S. president about whether he plans to proceed with a strike if Congress rejects his proposed resolution - a question Obama's aides have refused to answer, The Associated Press reports.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron has backed Obama's calls for a retaliatory strike against Syria, however the British parliament voted against endorsing military action. French President Francois Hollande has said his country can go ahead with a strike.
Russian President Vladimir Putin rejected the American evidence that Syrian forces used chemical weapons, calling the suggestion "utter nonsense."
"While the Syrian army is on the offensive, saying that it is the Syrian government that used chemical weapons is utter nonsense," Putin said. "I would like to address Obama as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate: before using force in Syria, it would be good to think about future casualties."