Syria: Army takes control of town near key highway

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BEIRUT (AP) -- Syrian government troops took full control of a western town near the main north-south highway, state media said, a development that could pave the way for the start of overland transport of the country's chemical weapons to a port for destruction abroad.

Activists say that rebels still hold part of Nabek, however.

The road near Nabek holds strategic value for both sides in Syria's conflict, now in its third year. The highway serves as a crucial link between the capital Damascus and northern Syria as well as government strongholds along the Mediterranean coast. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said last week it would consider using the road to transport Syria's chemical weapons to the port of Latakia before they are taken out for possible destruction at sea.

Syrian state TV said President Bashar Assad's army took Nabek Monday morning after "a series of precise operations." Troops are still pursuing "terrorists" in the town's outskirts.

Rami Abdurrahman, the head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the government controls most of Nabek. It said fighting was ongoing Monday in areas around the town that have in the past days seen heavy clashes between the Syrian army and its Lebanon Hezbollah allies and Islamist rebels, including many from an al-Qaida-linked group, on the opposition side.

The Observatory said the highway has been closed for 19 days because of the fighting. On Sunday, the army said it has reopened the road.