Syrian rebels face army offensive across the country

Syrian rebels face army offensive across the country

Activists report heavy shelling in Aleppo, Homs and Latakia provinces

This image made from amateur video released by Shaam News Network shows shelling in Joret el-Shayah, Homs, Syria. (photo credit: AP/Shaam News Network)
This image made from amateur video released by Shaam News Network shows shelling in Joret el-Shayah, Homs, Syria. (photo credit: AP/Shaam News Network)

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian troops on Friday shelled rebel-held areas and clashed with opposition fighters in several locations across the country, part of a regime offensive that began earlier this week to recover territories controlled by rebels.

The Local Coordination Committees and Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human rights said troops bombarded the northern town of Anadan in the northern Aleppo province on Friday. The Observatory says one person was killed.

The groups said troops have also shelled the rebel-held neighborhoods of Khaldieh and Jouret al-Shayah in the central Homs province.

Syrian troops have been sweeping through villages and towns in Syria’s northern, central, southern and seaside provinces this week in what appears to be the largest offensive since special envoy Kofi Annan brokered a cease-fire two months ago. The regime and the opposition have both largely ignored the April 12 truce.

The military on Wednesday overran the town of Haffa in the coastal Latakia province, pushing out hundreds of rebels after intense battles that lasted eight days. U.N. observers entered the nearly deserted town Thursday and found smoldering buildings, looted shops, smashed cars and a strong stench of death, according to U.N. spokeswoman Sausan Ghosheh.

The siege of Haffa, a Sunni-populated village, had become a focus of international concern because of fears the uprising against President Bashar Assad is evolving into a sectarian civil war pitting his minority Alawite sect against the majority Sunnis and other groups. Recent mass killings in other Sunni-populated areas have fed those concerns.

The fighting, now mostly quelled in Haffa, was mirrored in other parts of Syria, where more than 40 civilians and opposition fighters were killed Thursday, according to activists, alongside more than a half-dozen Syrian forces.

The fighting included clashes in the town of Hamuriya, near Damascus, that killed at least nine men who were allegedly butchered with knives. A video circulated by activists showed a pile of lifeless men, including one who was clearly slashed through the neck.

Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of the Observatory, urged observers on Friday to “immediately investigate” the men’s slaughter.

U.N. observers have reported a steep rise in violence and a dangerous shift in tactics by both sides in Syria in recent weeks. Car bombings and suicide bombings have become increasingly common as the 15-month uprising against Assad becomes militarized. Most have targeted security buildings and police buses, symbols of Assad’s regime.

Activists say some 14,000 people have been killed since the uprising against Assad began in March 2011.

State-run news agency SANA reported Friday that authorities had arrested an al-Qaida terrorist who planned to blow himself up in a Damascus mosque during Friday prayers. It identified the man as Mohammad Hussam al-Sudaqi.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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