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Syrian army in control of most of rebel town: activist

Oct 1, 2011, 7:25 a.m.

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian forces have taken control of most of the town of Rastan where they have been fighting army defectors and gunmen for five days, a British-based activist said on Saturday.

Rami Abdel-Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the army had deployed in around 80 percent of the town after a force of 250 tanks were sent to the Rastan region on Friday.

He said communication with Rastan, a town of 40,000 people which lies 180 km (110 miles) north of Damascus, was difficult but a resident who managed to escape early on Saturday reported heavy gunfire through the night.

Rastan has seen the first prolonged armed confrontation between rebels and soldiers loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, who is battling a six-month uprising calling for his overthrow.

The United Nations says 2,700 people have been killed in Assad's crackdown on the unrest. Syria blames the violence on armed gangs backed by foreign forces, and says 700 police and soldiers have been killed.

(Editing by Sophie Hares)

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