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Government forces capture strategic town in southern Syria

Sheikh Miskeen connected rebel forces in eastern and western Daraa province.
By Fred Lambert Contact the Author   |   Jan. 26, 2016 at 1:00 PM
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SHEIKH MISKEEN, Syria, Jan. 26 (UPI) -- Government forces captured a strategically important town in southern Syria on Tuesday, according to activists and state news.

The town of Sheikh Miskeen fell to forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad after nearly a month of fighting.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said pro-Assad forces, backed by Hezbollah fighters and Iranian officers, began efforts to take the town from rebel groups, including al-Qaida's Nusra Front, on Dec. 28. Russian airstrikes played a prominent part in the operation.

The town lies in between Daraa in the south and Damascus in the north. It was also the link between rebel forces to the east and west of Daraa province, according to SOHR.

Syrian state news reported government forces advanced on Sheikh Miskeen from all sides Monday, killing several militants, destroying rebel equipment and disarming multiple explosive devices and landmines. Pro-Assad troops reportedly seized roads leading to other towns in the Daraa countryside.

The capture of Sheikh Miskeen follows a series of recent gains by the Syrian government in Latakia, a province in the northwest. Earlier this month pro-Assad forces captured the town of Salma, which commands a view over the surrounding Jabal al-Akrad mountains, and on Sunday seized control of Rabiaa.

The Syrian military had been pushed into the country's western coastal provinces prior to the beginning of Moscow's air campaign against Assad's opponents on Sept. 30.

The BBC quoted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying Moscow's intervention has "really helped to turn around the situation in the country."

The rebel's loss of Sheikh Miskeen comes ahead of United Nations-sponsored peace talks aimed at ending Syria's five-year civil war. The negotiations are scheduled for Friday in Geneva.

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