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    Syrian TV: Troops Enter Rebel Stronghold of Qusair

    Syrian state television says government troops have entered the rebel town of Qusair as part of a weeks-long offensive to recapture the strategic area connecting Damascus to the Mediterranean coast.

    Syrian TV said state security forces moved into Qusair on Sunday and began hunting down terrorists - the government's term for rebels fighting a two-year war to oust autocratic President Bashar al-Assad.

    A Syrian official told Western news agencies that government troops captured the municipality headquarters and surrounding buildings. There was no independent confirmation.

    Syrian rights activists said security forces intensified their assault on Qusair during the day, hitting it with artillery and warplanes and damaging homes. They said government troops were backed by pro-Assad militiamen and fighters from the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 30 people were killed, including 16 rebels.



    Syrian troops had cut off Qusair on three sides and captured surrounding villages in recent weeks. The town lies near a highway from Damascus to the Syrian coast and controlling it would solidify President Assad's access to coastal regions largely inhabited by his minority Alawite sect.

    Qusair also is near the Lebanese border and has formed part of a cross-border smuggling route for rebels.

    Meanwhile, Mr. Assad has vowed not to step down before an election due next year.

    He made the comment Saturday in a rare televised interview with a foreign news organization, the Argentine newspaper Clarin. Mr. Assad's remarks about his future were his first since the United States and Russia agreed this month to try to bring his advisers and the Syrian opposition together for talks about a peaceful resolution to the civil war.

    Washington and Moscow have backed opposite sides in the conflict, but they also have agreed to try to hold the peace conference early next month.

    More than 80,000 people have been killed and several million displaced since the start of a rebellion against Mr. Assad in March 2011.

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    February 08, 2016 4:30 PM
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