DAMASCUS, Oct 10: The Syrian regime rejected a UN call for a unilateral ceasefire on Wednesday as rebels confronted columns of tanks and troops sent to retake a town on the road to main battleground city Aleppo.

President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, on the back foot with rebels controlling swathes of northern Syria, insisted the insurgents must stop the violence first as it turned down the call issued the previous day by UN chief Ban Ki-moon.

“We told Ban Ki-moon to send emissaries to the countries which have influence on the armed groups, so that they put an end to the violence,” foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Maqdisi said.

As he spoke, the embattled regime was sending tanks from Mastumah south of Idlib city to Maaret al-Numan, a rebel source told reporters in the nearby town of Sarmin.

It had also deployed soldiers along the highway to Maaret al-Numan to secure the passage of its heavy armour to the strategic town on the Damascus-Aleppo highway.

The insurgents were battling to halt their advance, however, using rocket launchers and improvised explosive devices, the source said, adding three tanks were damaged.

The intensifying battle for Maaret al-Numan was “very important,” said the rebels who took control of the town on Tuesday after 48 hours of fierce fighting and heavy shelling.

Rebels also intercepted troops on the outskirts of Khan Sheikhun, south of Maaret al-Numan, where intense clashes erupted even as warplanes bombed rebel zones, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

“If the rebels, who already have Maaret al-Numan and Saraqeb, take Khan Sheikhun, they will completely isolate regime troops in Aleppo because redeployments will not be able to arrive,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.—AFP

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