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Syrian warplanes hit strategic town

BEIRUT -- Syrian warplanes struck a strategic rebel-held town in the north Tuesday in an attempt to reopen a key supply route, activists said, as a UN-proposed cease-fire meant to start this week appeared increasingly unlikely to take hold.

The UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, has suggested that both sides in Syria's 19-month-old conflict lay down their arms during Eid ul-Adha, a four-day Muslim holiday that begins Friday.

Neither President Bashar Assad nor rebels fighting to topple him have committed to a truce, however.

Syria's stalemated civil war, which has frequently spilled over its borders, featured prominently in Monday's pre-election debate between President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney.

Both men said they would not send American troops to Syria, but Romney pledged to help arm rebels after vetting the intended recipients, earning him praise from Syrian opposition leaders. Obama warned of the risk of giving the rebels heavy weapons that could fall into the wrong hands and be used later against the United States or its allies.

"By not arming the [rebel] Free Syrian Army with heavy weapons, he [Obama] is giving Assad the upper hand," said Muhieddine Lathkani, a member of the Syrian National Council, an umbrella organization speaking for opposition groups.

The rebels have said they need heavier weapons to counter Assad's military superiority, particularly from the air. Since the summer, the regime has increasingly pounded rebel positions with warplanes and helicopter gunships.

Yesterday, government aircraft attacked Maaret al-Numan and the village of Mar Shamsheh, as troops and rebels battled over a nearby Syrian military camp that has been under siege for days, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Opposition fighters seized Maaret al-Numan, which lies along the main highway between Aleppo and Damascus, earlier this month. Their presence has disrupted the regime's ability to send supplies and reinforcements to the northwest.

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