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Syrian Troops Recapture Strategic Town From Jihadist Rebels

Syria says its troops have recaptured a strategic town seized by Islamist rebels last week near the border with Lebanon.

Syrian state media said government forces took control of Deir Attiyeh on Thursday, after driving out jihadists belonging to the Al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Deir Attiyeh is located in the Qalamoun region, north of Damascus. It sits along a key highway between Damascus and the central city of Homs.

Rebels have been using Qalamoun as a base from which to bring in supplies from Lebanon. The Syrian government has been staging a weeks-long offensive to cut off the rebels from those supply routes.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Syrian troops were "almost" in full control of Deir Attiyeh. It said fighting in the town had killed five doctors and four other medical workers.

Sources in the area said government forces also have expanded their offensive southward to the rebel-held town of Nabek.

The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been trying to strengthen its position in a two-year civil war with rebels ahead of a January 22 peace conference in Geneva.

The U.N.-backed conference aims to bring the government and its opponents together to peacefully resolve the conflict by agreeing on the formation of a transitional government.

Mr. Assad's forces received a boost on the battlefield earlier this year, when pro-Assad Lebanese militant group Hezbollah sent its men into Syria to join the fight against the rebels.

In reports published Thursday, Lebanese sources said a nephew of a senior Hezbollah leader was killed in fighting in the Qalamoun region this week. They said the slain militant was a relative of Hussein Haj, who serves as Lebanon's agriculture minister.

In another development, a video posted on the Internet appeared to show ISIL militants publicly executing seven members of a rival, more moderate rebel group in the northern town of Atarib.

In the video, the jihadists accuse the members of the Ghuraba al-Sham battalion of theft and corruption before killing them with gunshots to the head as crowds of supporters cheer.

ISIL has been trying to solidify its power in parts of Syria by eliminating smaller rival groups in pursuit of its goal of an Islamic state. The jihadists reject compromise with the Assad government and say moderate opposition figures willing to attend the Geneva conference do not represent them.

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