Syria: Assad forces retake Krak des Chevaliers from rebels

Clashes along Lebanese border, air strikes on Arsal

20 March, 19:12

    (by Alberto Zanconato) (ANSAmed) - BEIRUT, MARCH 20 - Syrian loyalist forces scored an important military victory Thursday when they seized the medieval Crusader castle of Krak des Chevaliers, on the Lebanese border, in which rebels had been barricaded for about two years. The forces of President Bashar al-Assad in this way have taken another step in their strategy of sealing the border, blocking arms and militias directed at the insurgency.

    The fall of the castle built by the order of the Knights Hospitaller between the 12th and 13th centuries came after that of the nearby town of Al Hosn, which loyalist forces seized on Wednesday. Control of this strategic town guarantees the security of a highway leading from Homs towards the coastal region of Latakia and Tartus. Both port cities are regime bastions.

    On Sunday, the fall of the city of Yabrud east of the border marked the almost complete reconquest of the Qalamoun region, which overlooks the highway between Homs and Damascus.

    Al Mayadeen private Lebanese TV, which is close to the Syrian regime, on Thursday broadcast images of soldiers raising the Syrian flag on one of the castle's towers, which appeared intact.

    According to unconfirmed reports, regime forces entered the fortress following an agreement to let the rebel leave without a fight, in order to spare the ancient building.

    Approximately 300 rebel militias quit the castle and dozens of wounded were transported to the Wadi Khaled region, over the border in Lebanon, Al Mayadeen reported.

    Fighting took place at the Bqayaa border crossing, where hundreds of Syrian rebels and many fleeing civilians are reportedly attempting to enter Lebanon, while several Lebanese border villages have been hit by stray fire.

    Several mortar shells on Thursday morning hit the village of Khat al-Petrol, injuring an unknown number of people and damaging several homes, NNA Lebanese news agency reported.

    Meanwhile, Syrian helicopter gunships fired on the Sunni, pro-rebel area of Arsal, which is considered to be a base for rebels fleeing Yabrud.

    The Syrian government has called on the UN to halt what it said was Israel's ''insolent violations'' of cease-fire agreements on the Golan Heights as well as its ''direct support of armed terrorist groups''.

    This follows on Israeli air strikes during the night between Tuesday and Wednesday, which Damascus said have left one person dead and wounded seven more.

    Israel said the strike was carried out in response to a bomb explosion at the border, which wounded four Israeli soldiers.


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