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Syrian rebels capture town near Turkish border

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BEIRUT, Mar 24 (AP) - 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 Monday.
Fighters from an array of armed opposition groups, including the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, seized the town of Kassab on Sunday. They have also wrested control of a border crossing to Turkey, just outside of town.
The advances, while minor in terms of territory, provided a welcome 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 offensive aimed severing rebel supply lines across the porous frontier and securing the border.
Rebels launched their offensive on Friday in Latakia province, which is the ancestral home of the Assad family and a stronghold of his Alawite sect. The fighting so far has focused around Kassab, which is predominantly inhabited by members of Syria's Armenian minority.
Rami Abdurrahman, the director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said rebels were in control of Kassab on Monday but that clashes were raging in the hills outside the center of town.
In an amateur video posted online, two opposition fighters stand on a rooftop in Kassab and raise their arms in celebration. The camera pans past the base of a smashed statue that the narrator says was of Assad's late father and Syria's former leader, Hafez.
The video appears genuine and corresponded to other AP reporting.

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