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Terrorism & Security

Syrian troops recapture rebel-held town, cutting off refugees

In a blow to rebels, Syrian troops recaptured a border town used by refugees to cross into Jordan, according to activists.

By Staff writer / September 6, 2012

Newly arrived Syrian refugee children are helped by Jordanian military soldiers after they crossed the border from Tal Shehab city in Syria, through the Al Yarmouk River valley, into Thnebeh town, in Ramtha, Jordan, Wednesday, Sept. 5.

Mohammad Hannon/AP

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Latin America Editor

Whitney Eulich is the Monitor's Latin America editor, overseeing regional coverage for CSMonitor.com and the weekly magazine. She also curates the Latin America Monitor Blog.

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Syrian troops recaptured a rebel-held town along the Jordanian border today, cutting off a major crossing for Syrian refugees fleeing to Jordan and putting further stress on the humanitarian crisis resulting from the protracted civil war.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based organization, and local activist Mohammad Abu Houran, 20 Syrian tanks and scores of soldiers attacked Tel Chehab this morning.

Nearly 2,000 refugees were in Tel Chehab when the Syrian Army attacked, Mr. Houran told The Associated Press. The territorial loss is a setback for Syrian rebels who, according to AP, claim to control more than half of the country but are facing increasing challenges, such as weapon shortages.

“Right now we have more people who want to fight than we have weapons,” Ahmad Ibrahim, a senior member of the Free Syrian Army in the town of Akhtrin, told The Christian Science Monitor's reporter Tom A. Peter this week. (See his coverage on the rebels' surplus of volunteers but shortage of weapons here.)

But the rebels aren’t the only ones losing ground: The Army’s recapturing of a refugee thoroughfare exacerbates an already difficult reality for Syrian refugees as well. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), in coordination with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, has supplied food and water for an estimated 180,000 internally displaced people in Syria since mid-July. Aid agencies have been trying to boost their relief operations, Reuters reports.

Aid agencies are trying to beef up relief operations across Syria, where the ICRC says that needs have grown "exponentially" in the past few weeks due to the escalation of violence in the 17-month-old rebellion against Assad.

Clashes and continuous bombardment have cut off many civilians from basic services and life-saving supplies.

On Tuesday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told Peter Maurer, the head of the ICRC, that he welcomes humanitarian operations carried out by the organization in Syria – as long as it works “independently and neutrally,” reports Syrian newspaper Day Press News.

Syrian official Ali Haidar said caution was called for in allowing in aid workers, as such organizations could be making an  "impermissible request to open doors that violate Syrian sovereignty," reports Reuters. A diplomatic source also said that "Syria has been very unwilling to grant access and independence to the ICRC once they get in."

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