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Syrian army hails 'cleansed' town

The Syrian army has triumphantly announced the capture of a strategic town near the Lebanese border, telling the nation it has "cleansed" the rebel-held Qusair of "terrorists" who are fighting President Bashar Assad's troops.

The capture of the town, which lies close to the Lebanese border, solidifies some of the regime's recent gains on the ground that have shifted the balance of power in Assad's favor in the Syrian civil war.

It comes just a day after France and Britain made back-to-back announcements that the nerve gas sarin was used in Syria's conflict. A UN probe also said it had "reasonable grounds" to suspect small-scale use of toxic chemicals in at least four attacks in March and April in Syria.

The statements - which included a confirmed case of the Syrian regime using sarin - leave many questions unanswered because the probes were mostly carried out from outside Syria using samples collected by doctors and journalists.

On the ground in the past two months, the Syrian army has moved steadily against rebels in key battleground areas, making advances near the border with Lebanon and considerably lowering the threat to Damascus, the seat of Assad's government. A wide offensive on Qusair was launched on May 19.

The fall of Qusair deals a huge blow to the opposition. The overwhelmingly Sunni town has served as a conduit for shipments of weapons, fighters and supplies smuggled from Lebanon to the rebels inside Syria.

The town is strategically located between Damascus, the seat of Assad's government, and the Alawite heartland near the Mediterranean coast.

In a rare military statement by the Syrian Armed Forces that was read out on state TV, the regime said it had restored "peace and security" in Qusair, calling it a "clear message to all those who are participating in the aggression against Syria".

The army statement said the military cleared Qusair and surrounding villages in the country's west of "terrorists", the term the regime uses for rebels fighting to topple Assad's government.

It said a "large number (of rebels) have been killed, others surrendered and the rest escaped" following a decisive push into the town late on Tuesday.

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