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Syrian troops capture key rebel town despite Turkish threats

Syrian government troops captured a key opposition town in the northwest on Wednesday, an observer group and news network reported, despite threats by Turkey’s president to use force if they don’t pull back by the end of the month.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and an opposition news network said Syrian government troops entered Saraqib in the evening after an intense day of clashes with opposition fighters, during which several Turkish posts were surrounded.

Syrian state-run Al-Ikhbariya TV reported government forces encircled Saraqib after advancing toward the town from three directions. Some opposition fighters were reportedly still in the town, while opposition-run Shaam news agency said Syrian troops have not yet entered Saraqib.

Syrian forces have fought to open a highway linking the capital Damascus with the northern city of Aleppo, Syria’s largest. Rebels have kept the highway shut down since 2012 and Saraqib [Saraqeb] is the last major rebel-held town in their way. The town also sits at the intersection of another major highway that links eastern and western Syria.

Some even claimed that the Turkish military posts in the city’s vicinity had targeted army troops. These claims are yet to be verified.

Saraqib is the single most strategically important location in Idlib province, seeing how it sits on the juncture of the M4 and M5 highways. It is more important than even Idlib city itself.