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Syrian rebels capture town near Turkish border

| Monday, March 24, 2014, 6:12 p.m.

Hard-line Islamic rebels captured a small town in northwestern Syria near the Turkish border as part of their offensive in the rugged coastal region that is a bastion of support for President Bashar Assad, activists said on Monday.

Fighters from an array of armed opposition groups seized the predominantly Armenian Christian town of Kassab on Sunday. The rebels, including militants from the al-Qaida-affiliated Nusra Front, also have wrested control of a nearby border crossing to Turkey.

The advances, while minor in terms of territory, provided a boost to a beleaguered rebellion that has suffered a string of battlefield losses in recent weeks. Forces loyal to Assad have captured several towns near Syria's border with Lebanon as part of a government drive to sever rebel supply lines across the porous frontier.

Rebels began their offensive on Friday in Latakia province, which is the ancestral home of the Assad family and a stronghold of his minority Alawite sect, the Shiite offshoot community that is a main pillar of support for his rule. Since then, the fighting has focused on Kassab and the nearby border crossing.

A member of the president's family who is an army commander was buried in Latakia on Monday, a day after he died in the battle for Kassab, the Syrian state news agency SANA said. Hilal Assad was the commander of the pro-government National Defense Forces.

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