BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian government forces have reopened a key road leading to the embattled northern city of Aleppo after heavy fighting with rebels that left casualties on both sides, state media and activists said Monday.
The state news agency and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said regime troops wrested control of the road Sunday night. It had been closed since rebels captured villages along the road in August.
President Bashar Assad's regime built the desert road to bypass contested areas after rebels took the town of Maaret al-Numan late last year, cutting the main highway between the capital, Damascus, and Aleppo, Syria's largest city.
"This road was a matter of life or death to the regime," said Observatory director Rami Abdul-Rahman. He added that government troops now can send supplies to the north although the road remains "very dangerous."
SANA said the military "broke the siege of armed terrorist groups that were preventing food supplies from reaching residents of Aleppo." The government refers to rebels as terrorists.
Rebels and government troops have fought for control of Aleppo since July 2012.
Meanwhile, several members of an advance team of experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons sent to Syria as part of a deal to rid the country of its chemical arms program returned to the OPCW headquarters in The Hague, Netherlands.
The OPCW said in a statement that those who left Syria had held "constructive" talks with the government about the details Damascus has provided about its program. Syrian authorities have been "cooperative," it said, and the experts will continue to evaluate the information handed over by the government. An initial report will be submitted by Oct. 27, it added.
For the first time since the mission began last week, Syrian personnel working under the supervision of the OPCE experts on Sunday began destroying the country's chemical arsenal and equipment used to produce it.
The joint OPCW-U.N. mission to scrap Syria's chemical program stems from a deadly Aug. 21 attack on opposition-held suburbs of Damascus in which the U.N. has determined the nerve agent sarin was used. Hundreds of people were killed, including many children. The U.S. and Western allies accuse the Syrian government of being responsible, while Damascus blames the rebels.
The Obama administration threatened to launch punitive missile strikes against Syria, prompting frantic diplomatic efforts to forestall an attack. Those efforts concluded with September's unanimous U.N. Security Council resolution endorsing the elimination of Syria's chemical weapons.
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